Health Benefits of Flaxseed

By Karla Walsh

Flaxseed—you may not know this, but it appears in so many of your favorite foods; in your morning cereal? Check! In your bread? Check! In your Beyond Burger? Check! So why is it everywhere? Sure, we’ve heard that seeds aren’t just for the birds (see what we did there?), but what exactly makes it such a popular superfood?  

Read on to discover why health experts love this little seed and how to integrate it into your own recipes (plus some of our faves to try)!

What is Flaxseed?

Flaxseeds are harvested from flax plants called Linum Usitatissimum that were believed to have grown first in Egypt, but are now found all over the world. Since the fiber within the seeds is so strong, they were originally used to make clothing fibers before cotton came into play.

Today, flaxseeds are more often added to our diets as a nutty-flavored, versatile ingredient. They’re sold in whole seed form, ground flaxseed (or flaxseed meal) and as flaxseed oil. You’ve probably seen them in breads, crackers, and perhaps as a binder in meatloaf or meatballs. Linen clothing is made from cellulose fibers that grow within flax plants, too.

RELATED: How to Lower Heart Disease Risk, According to a Top Nutritionist (Including Eating More Flax!)

The Health Benefits of Flaxseed 

The American Heart Association has tapped flax as one of the top two seeds for your ticker—alongside chia. They’re a good source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of unsaturated fatty acid that converts to omega-3 fatty acids generally found only in fish and a few other foods. They also offer a dose of cholesterol-lowering lignans, which are large groups of polyphenols that line some plant walls. (These may also help control blood pressure and reduce the risk for certain types of cancers.)

An ample source of fiber, heart-healthy fats, and plant-based protein, a 2-tablespoon serving of flaxseeds contain the following nutritional information, according to the USDA’s Food Data Central database

  • 130 calories
  • 10 grams of fat
  • 4 grams of protein
  • 7 grams of carbohydrates (including 7 grams of fiber)
  • 8 percent of your daily recommended intake of iron
  • 6 percent of your daily recommended intake of calcium

Since flax contains so much protein per bite, it actually will contribute towards your daily protein quota. It’s worth noting, however, that you can overdo it. Since the itty-bitty seeds are so rich in healthy fats, they’re also fairly calorie-dense. All that fiber can do a number on your digestion as well if you’re not used to consuming your recommended 25 to 38 grams per day.

Quick tip: Be sure to drink plenty of water with any high-fiber food, including flax, to help your body usher it through the digestive system more easily. 

Supplementing your diet with flaxseed has been linked to a lighter body weight, smaller waist measurement, and lower body mass index (BMI)—perhaps due to all of that filling fiber and protein.  

RELATED: 3 Edible Seeds That Make Awesome Snacks

How to Use Flaxseed in Healthy Flaxseed Recipes

Now that you’re well-versed on all of the health benefits of flaxseeds, let’s dish about how to add them to your menu. Since the body has a tough time breaking down the hard outer shell of whole flaxseeds, purchase them pre-ground (or grind the whole seeds yourself) to consume them for the biggest health boost. Note: Ground flaxseeds do spoil faster than whole seeds, so store them in the freezer to extend their lifespan from about a week to 2 months or so.

Buy it: Spectrum Essentials Organic Ground Flaxseed ($8.63 for 24 ounces, amazon.com)

If your body doesn’t respond well to consuming eggs, trade out the white and yolk of an egg in nearly any recipe with a “flax egg”. (Mix 1 tablespoon flax seeds with 2 ½ tablespoons of water, allow to soak for 5 minutes to thicken, then incorporate into recipes in place of one egg.)

Beyond that, flaxseeds work brilliantly as an incognito addition to smoothies, bread recipes, waffle and pancake batters, oatmeal recipes, and even meat mixtures (think meatballs, meatloaf and burgers).

Here are some of our fave healthy flaxseed recipes to try this week:

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

About Karla Walsh
Health, Food, Wine and Relationship Writer + Cooking and Wine Event Host

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