Eat Flaxseeds for Their Fibre, Healthy Fat and Phytochemicals

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You may have heard that flaxseeds are little nutrition powerhouses packed with fibre, protein, healthy fat and phytochemicals.  But do you know how best to consume them and some of the many health benefits they may offer?  Read on.

What are flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are tiny, oval-shaped seeds of the flax plant.  So, flaxseeds are a plant-based food that provide a chewy texture and nutty flavour, while offering a good source of dietary fibre, protein, healthful fat and phytochemicals called lignans.  

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Ways flaxseeds can be consumed

  • Whole flaxseeds
    • These are often added to baked products to improve the texture and appearance.  Keep in mind whole flaxseeds may pass through your system undigested because our bodies can’t naturally break them down, so you will miss out on the nutritional benefits. To improve digestion and reap the benefits, it’s best to consume ground whole flaxseeds as discussed below.  
  • Flaxseed oil
    • Flaxseed oil is produced from flaxseeds that have been ground and pressed to release their natural oil – an essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  However, flaxseed oil offers little protein, fibre or lignans.  It is best used for salad dressings and sauces.  Keep in mind that flaxseed oil should not be used for cooking, as it does not have a high smoke point.
  • Ground whole flaxseeds
    • This is the most nutritious type of flaxseed.  All the nutrients in flaxseeds are inside the hard outer flax shell – so grinding whole flaxseeds releases the fibres, fat, protein and phytochemicals.  You can either purchase them ground, or grind them yourself before consuming using a coffee grinder or blender at home.   

Tip: Whole flaxseeds can be stored at room temperature for up to a year so you can grind them as you need them.  Store your ground flaxseeds in an airtight, dark container in the fridge or freezer for up to three months.  

Nutrient profile of ground whole flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are known for their good nutrition with 1 tablespoon (15mL/7g) ground flaxseeds providing the following key nutrients:

  • 1.6 grams of omega-3 ALA
  • 1.9 grams of dietary fibre
  • 1.3 grams of protein
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Some health benefits of flaxseeds

While flaxseeds contain various healthy components; its health benefits have been largely associated with three specific components:

  • Fibre – flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibres
  • Essential omega-3 fatty acids – flaxseeds are a source of plant-based omega-3 ALA – a “good” type of fat we need to stay healthy and must get through diet as we cannot make it ourselves
  • Lignans – flaxseeds by far provide the highest dietary plant source of lignans – a type of phytochemical – which is a plant compound produced by flaxseeds that may offer benefits to health

Digestive Health

  • Ground whole flaxseeds are a good source of dietary fibre to help maintain a healthy digestive tract.  Two tablespoons of ground whole flaxseeds provide 4 grams of dietary fibre, or about 15% of the Daily Value, so is a great way to boost fibre intake. Remember, as with all fibres slowly increase the amount of fibre in your diet and drink plenty of fluids as your fibre intake increases to help the fibre work better and prevent gas and bloating.   

Heart Health

  • Flaxseeds are high in omega-3 ALA, which has been associated with improved heart health through various mechanisms and helps lower the risk of heart disease
  • Ground whole flaxseed may also help lower cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease.  In fact, Health Canada reviewed the scientific evidence and concluded that scientific evidence exists to support the health claim about ground whole flaxseed and blood cholesterol lowering and allows manufactures to put this health claim on certain food labels when specified conditions are met as set out by Health Canada.  It appears the cholesterol lowering effects may come from all three components – omega-3 ALA, fibre and lignans.

Cancer Risk Reduction

  • Research suggests that flaxseeds may reduce your risk against some cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.  The components in flaxseed that seem to offer protection are the lignans and potentially the ALA omega-3 fatty acid, though more research is needed.

Keep in mind, while research indicates flax may reduce risks of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease, more research is needed to clearly establish the health benefits.

Flax is easy to incorporate into your everyday foods

So, now that you understand a little bit more about flaxseeds, let’s look at some ways to incorporate these little nutrition powerhouses into your diet:

  • Try stirring a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds into your yogurt, oatmeal or smoothie
  • You can also bake with it – add ground flaxseeds to muffins, breads or pancakes
  • Sprinkle ground flaxseeds on salads to enjoy a nutty flavour or hide them in casseroles
  • Use flaxseed oil in your salad dressings  

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