Flaxseed For Health
Flaxseed For Health
Did you know flaxseeds and flax oil that you eat and consume for their nutrient and health value are as varied in nutritional value as in the uses?
From controlling inflammation to lowering the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. From preventing neural defects in the foetus to controlling health issues at menopause and more there is nothing quite amazing like flax.
Flax is one plant that has a different set of benefits for men and different for women. Amazing isn't it?
Be prepared to spend some time to learn about these various amazing uses of flax from paints and varnishes to livestock and chicken feed to baking and cooking and more.
Flax has vital uses which you will learn as you read on. So let's start from the beginning.
About Flax Plant And Flaxseed
Latin Name : Linum usitatissimum
Flaxseed is commonly also known as flax, common flax or linseed. It is also termed the new wonder food.
The flax plant is native to India and the region extending to the Eastern Mediterranean. Much cultivation took place in ancient times in Ethiopia and Egypt between 4000 BC and 2000 BC. However, indications have been found that its cultivation may have started much earlier around 10000 BC.
In prehistoric times, its cultivation was done both for culinary as well as clothing purposes and this extends to this day.
Flax is a plant that stays erect and grows to a height of about 4 feet. the stems are thin while the leaves are green and slender and shaped like a lancet. The flowers are pale blue or bright red in colour depending on the variety.
The unspun fibres of the flax plant are also called flax. They are extracted from the stems. The fibres are blonde in colour, soft, flexible and lustrous. These can be spun to make linen.
There are 2 types of flaxseeds - the yellow and the brown coloured seeds which are the food grade and non-food-grade varieties of flax, respectively.
The nutritional values of both varieties are similar as well as they have equal amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Uses Of Flaxseeds
Both the yellow and brown flaxseeds can be consumed as has been done in ancient times.
Today, however, the brown flaxseed is used in paints, cattle feed and to draw out fibres. Linseed oil is the oil produced from the brown flaxseeds and is used as a drying oil in paints, varnishes, coatings, wood finishes etc.
The yellow flaxseeds are the ones that are consumed. They are also eaten sprouted. They can be eaten whole or ground. The whole seeds are very stable. The ground flaxseeds can go rancid very fast at room temperature as it is extremely oil-rich; Kept in the refrigerator, it can stay good for 2 -4 months. Whole flaxseeds stay good for 1 to 2 years.
Flaxseed, and sometimes flaxseed oil, is commonly used in livestock feed.
Ground flaxseeds can be added to cereals, yoghurt, shakes, desserts, ice creams etc. They are also used in the manufacture of muffins, cakes, biscuits etc.
Flaxseed has a very hard coat hence it is better to use it ground. Just take care to grind it when about to use so that it does not go rancid.
Flaxseed Nutritional Benefits
Flaxseed is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid as also in omega-3 essential fatty acids like linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and arachidonic acids.
They also contain lignans in the form of estrogens. They are very high in Vitamin E content (133% of the daily requirement contained in 100 gms).
They are a very good source of the B complex vitamins B1, B2, B6, niacin, pantothenic acid and folate as also the minerals magnesium, manganese, copper and iron.
They contain good amounts of potassium, zinc and calcium.
They are a very good source of soluble and insoluble fibre and have no cholesterol.
Flax Seed Nutritional Values
Flax seeds (Linum usitatissimum)
Nutritional value per 100 g.
(Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
Percentage of RDA
Flaxseed For Health
Flaxseed has the highest number of omega-3 fatty acids among all 129 of the world's healthiest foods and has been ranked as the leading source of lignans in foods (source: WHFoods.com).
- Flaxseed has 7 times as many lignans as in sesame seeds, 338 times the lignans in sunflower seeds, 475 times those in cashew seeds and 3200 times the lignans found in peanuts. Amazing isn't it?
- The mucilage content of flaxseed lowers the rate of emptying of the food into the small intestines thereby improving nutrient absorption.
- The omega-3 fatty acids are responsible for lowering the LDL and total cholesterol levels while increasing the HDL levels. Omega-3 fatty acids remain stable for at least 3 hours of cooking at 300 deg F.
- The high fibre content, the monounsaturated fatty acids and the omega-3 fatty acids help in lowering blood pressure, the incidence of coronary artery disease, stroke and various cancers.
- The omega-3 help in the development of the infants and their nervous system.
- The lignans have hormonal. antioxidant and cancer-preventive properties.
- The high Vitamin E levels counteract the free radicals and protect the mucosal cell membranes.
- The various B complex vitamins help in the different metabolic processes of the body, prevent beriberi and neural defects in the unborn if consumed preconception and through pregnancy.
- The anti-inflammatory action of flaxseeds helps in reducing inflammation in diseases like asthma and Parkinsons.
- The high levels of fibre ensure no constipation occurs but enough water should be consumed otherwise the very fibre will become the cause of constipation.
- Studies indicate that 2 tbsp flaxseeds a day cut hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings in women undergoing menopause by 50%.
Flaxseed Tortilla Chip
Benefits Of Flaxseed For Health - For Men
Blood Pressure Management
Omega-3 fatty acids prevent blood vessel damages as well as reduce clumping of the platelets thus lowering blood pressure.
Reduces Prostate Problems
The lignans and omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and antioxidants and thus protect the prostrate from infection and possible cancer too.
Controls Cholesterol Levels
It lowers LDL & total cholesterol while raising the HDL levels thus lowering the risk of heart disease, heart attack and strokes.
Controls Blood Sugar
The lignan content of the flaxseed is responsible for maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.
Flax Seed Milk Recipe | Health Benefits of Flaxseeds
Benefits Of Flaxseed For Health - For Women
- The lignans act like estrogen and balance the female hormones.
- Flaxseed makes the menopause experience easier to go through.
- It improves the strength of the bones, teeth and nails as women are more prone to bone health issues.
- Flaxseed consumption combats infertility issues and cramps. It also reduces endometriosis discomfort. Reduces inflammation in breast cysts.
- It controls acne and soothes skin.
Flaxseed Oil And Its Uses
It is made from the dried ripe seeds of the flax plant. Flaxseed oil is rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids - the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids.
It is a colourless to yellow coloured oil. Flaxseed has about 40% oil by weight and the oil has about 55% omega-3 fatty acids.
Flaxseed oil is called flax when the oil is used for consumption. Linseed is used to describe the oil used for industrial purposes.
Some of its uses are :
- To correct some health issues like high cholesterol, blood pressure, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, maintain correct blood sugar levels.
- To maintain skin, nails, hair health.
- To burn body fat and reduce weight.
- To avail the natural laxative effect of its mucilage content.
- To benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects it has by soothing the inner mucosa of the inflamed intestine.
- As a nutritional supplement.
And some uses besides the health ones:
- It is also used in paints, wood finishes, pigment binders, varnishes, manufacture of soaps, linoleum, as a waterproofing agent etc.
Flaxseed Oil And Capsules
Flaxseed vs Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseeds have more nutrients than flaxseed oil. However, flaxseeds contain 1/3rd the amount of ALA than flaxseed oil quantity being equal.
If you need the entire range of nutrients, take flaxseeds.
To get an omega-3 boost, take flaxseed oil.
Lignans are naturally present in flaxseeds. The flaxseed oil has added lignans that are not natural.
Flaxseeds have much longer shelf life than flaxseed oil which can turn rancid fast.
Flaxseeds are a very good source of fibre while the oil has no fibre.
Benefits Of Flaxseed Oil Capsules
The capsules are easy to swallow and do not affect the taste of the mouth.
The capsule form protects it from UV and light ensuring the stability of the oil.
The capsule form minimises free radicals in the oil and protects it from oxidative rancidity.
It is easier to carry and consume.
Ground flaxseed is called flaxseed meal. Flaxseed should be ground only when needed to prevent it from going rancid and losing its nutrient value. It is at its optimum nutrient value when freshly ground.
Flaxseed meal imparts a rich nutty flavour to the added foods. It is a better and healthier option than flaxseed oil. It can be ground to the desired consistency.
Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil Debate
This debate about flaxseed oil being better than fish oil and vice versa is quite old. According to some flaxseed oil is better while according to others fish oil scores in this respect.
The fact is :
Flaxseed oil contains ALA which is a precursor to EPA & DHA and the body has to convert the ALA to EPA & DHA.
Fish oil contains EPA & DHA. Coldwater fish are the richest source of DHA & EPA. Fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and anchovy are good sources.
It is believed that our body is a poor converter of ALA to EPA & DHA. Only 5% of ALA is converted to EPA while a mere 0.5% is converted to DHA.
However, it is also a fact that for strict vegetarians and those with an allergy to fish, flaxseed oil is the biggest source of omega-3 fatty acids and the best option.
There are several published research papers about the inability of flaxseed oil (ALA) to provide benefits comparable to those provided by fish oil
Some opinions of the experts are given below.
Flaxseed Oil vs Fish Oil Debate
Some opinions :
British Journal Atherosclerosis: “Fish oil produced predictable changes in cardiovascular risk, but were not reproduced with ALA from Flaxseed oil.” – Volume 181, Issue 1, July 2005, Pages 115-124
Cornell University: “Studies generally agree that whole body conversion of ALA (Flax) to DHA is below 5% in humans.”- Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2002 Mar; 5(2): 127-32.
Hoffmann-Roche: “Conversion is approximately 6% for EPA and 3.8% for DHA. With a diet rich in Omega-6, the conversion is reduced further by 40 to 50%.” – Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1998; 68(3): 159-73.
University of Guelph: “Thirty adults with ADHD were given 12 weeks of supplementation with olive oil, flax oil or fish oil. The data suggest that in order to increase levels of EPA and DHA in adults with ADHD high dose fish oil may be preferable to high dose flax oil.” –Reprod Nutr Dev. 2005 Sep-Oct; 45(5): 549-58.
Flaxseed slows down the absorption of other medicines and nutrients. Hence both should not be taken together.
It may cause constipation instead of relieving it if water consumption is not increased. It is best to take 1 tsp to start with and if okay go for 2 tsp per day.
Consuming flaxseed in excess may cause bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea as it has a lot of mucilage content in the seed coat.
Due to the lignan content-the phytoestrogens, pregnant women and those breastfeeding should stay away from consuming flaxseed.
Those with bowel inflammation and/or obstruction should avoid it.
Some people may experience side effects like bleeding or easy bruising, black or bright coloured stools or vomiting of blood, vision or speech disturbances, weakness or numbness in arm or leg, severe headache, allergic reactions like rash, itching, swelling. breathing difficulty, wheezing or swallowing.
Consult your doctor or health provider immediately, if you experience any of these symptoms.
The information provided in this hub is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician, or health care provider before taking any home remedies or supplements.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Rajan Singh Jolly