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.
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.
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)
Cinnamon Oatmeal Banana Bread Skillet
This riff on banana bread is made with nutritious foods like whole grain oats, flax and chia seeds, and cinnamon. Sources of complex carbs, like oats, have fiber and fiber is good for digestion to help support your regularity. Get recipe here.
Veggie and Parmesan Mini Egg Muffins
The muffins are mini but their nutrition value is anything but. They’re filled with protein, fiber, and vitamins, thanks to the eggs, dairy and veggies. They’re also a great option when planning meals for a busy week. Make a batch and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for an easy, satisfying grab-and-go breakfast. Get the recipe here.
Nut and Seed Bread
This is a simple way to make “bread” for gluten-free eaters and is packed with important nutrients like protein, omega-3s, and antioxidants. Get the recipe here.
Pumpkin Flaxseed Pancakes with Pomegranate Maple Syrup
Pumpkin puree isn’t just delish—it’s full of beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, and fiber. And as for the syrup, pomegranates are loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants that fight inflammation tied to cancer and cardiovascular disease. Get the recipe here.
Energy-Boosting Peanut Butter Bites
These sweet, satisfying bites are easy to make; you don’t even have to turn on the oven. They deliver healthy omega-3 fats from flax and chia seeds and are filled with protein, making them the perfect afternoon pick-me-up snack and a great option for a grab-and-go breakfast. Get the recipe here.