Flaxseed is an extremely nutrient dense plant, often ground and made into a powder that is then mixed into different meals many people eat on day to day basis. This superfood contains high amounts of many key vitamins and minerals humans need, including: omega-3, magnesium, mucilages, vitamin E and many more. Have you ever heard of this natural food supplement and all the benefits it can offer?
Most people consume flaxseed in order to improve the functioning of their heart and cardiovascular system, but this superfood has so much more to offer. All the healthy fats within flaxseed work to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce blood cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of thrombosis (formation of blood clots). Thanks to its viscous, gel-like consistency it takes on in digestive system, flaxseed helps normalise blood glucose (sugar) levels and relieves constipation.
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- 2 Key Facts
- 3 The best flaxseed supplements
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about flaxseed or linseed
- 4.1 What is flaxseed exactly?
- 4.2 What nutrients does flaxseed provide?
- 4.3 What are the known benefits of flaxseed?
- 4.4 How does flaxseed protect cardiovascular health?
- 4.5 How should flaxseed be consumed to lower cholesterol?
- 4.6 Should whole flaxseed be "activated" before consumption?
- 4.7 What foods can flaxseed be incorporated into?
- 4.8 Why is the magnesium present in linseed so important?
- 4.9 Can flaxseed supplementation help you lose weight?
- 4.10 How does flaxseed help regulate bowel function?
- 4.11 Who should take flaxseed supplements?
- 4.12 Why is flaxseed considered an anti-carcinogenic food?
- 4.13 In order to obtain the above mentioned benefits, what is the recommended dose of flaxseed that should be ingested?
- 4.14 Are there negative side effects associated with the consumption of flaxseed ?
- 4.15 What is the difference between chia seed oil, linseed oil and cod liver oil?
- 5 What types of flaxseed supplements are there and which one is the right one for me?
- 6 Shopping Criteria
- 7 Summary
- Flaxseed or linseed is a simple, inexpensive and effective option for anyone looking to improve heart, intestinal and/or brain health.
- Flaxseed has a very large nutritional profile. It contains a number of healthy fats, proteins of very good biological value, soluble and insoluble fibre, vitamin E and magnesium to name a few.
- Flaxseed can be eaten whole, ground or as flour. Concentrated Linseed oil and other variations of flaxseed capsules are also made and sold for convenient consumption.
The best flaxseed supplements
As with most seeds, linseed products are abundant, sold in a multitude of different forms. You can find oils, flours, capsules, as well as whole or crushed flaxseed. The seeds can range anywhere from a dark brown colour to a light gold. With all of these equally beneficial options, figuring out which flaxseed product is best for you can be difficult. To help you out, we’ve selected the best flaxseed supplements available on the market, comparing the advantages and disadvantages that each product offers.
Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about flaxseed or linseed
The most widespread benefits of flaxseed are those related to heart health. However, the reasons for consuming flaxseed in its various forms a far greater than just cardiovascular benefits. In this section, you’ll learn about all the positive effects that flaxseed can have on your body and the best flaxseed products to incorporate into your diet.
What is flaxseed exactly?
What nutrients does flaxseed provide?
- 40-41 grams of fat: 23 grams of which are omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It also contains substantial amounts of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.
- 20 grams of protein: This protein provides essential amino acid sources that our body must obtain from food. The quality of flaxseed protein is similar to that of soybean protein.
- 28 grams of dietary fibre: Flaxseed provides both soluble and insoluble fibre. Each type of fibre has a different function within our body and digestive system, which we will elaborate on in more detail below.
- Low in carbohydrates: Only 1 gram of complex carbohydrates.
- Minerals: Magnesium, potassium, calcium and phosphorus.
- Vitamins: Vitamin E and B-complex vitamins (B1, B3, B5 and folate).
- Other important nutrients: Flavonoids and lignin.
What are the known benefits of flaxseed?
- Flaxseed acts to strengthen and support our cardiovascular system. In other words, it works to combat heart disease and to keep the heart functioning at its highest capacity.
- Prevents ischemia and strokes.
- Decreases blood cholesterol levels.
- Reduces the risk of developing atherosclerosis and, when the disease has already developed, slows its progression. Atherosclerosis is the accumulation of fatty plaques (and other substances) inside the walls of the arteries. This in turn leads to decreased blood flow and, if not addressed, it can lead to total obstruction of blood vessels.
- Keeps blood glucose levels stable and, when added into meals, reduces blood sugar spikes after eating.
- Decreases blood pressure in hypertensive people.
- Reduces the risk of thrombosis and the formation of blood clots. This helps to prevent heart attacks or strokes.
- Fights inflammation and relieves joint pain.
- Prevents cancer, primarily breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer.
- Reduces menopause-related bone demineralisation and protects against osteoporosis.
- Enriches salads, yogurts, pancakes, breads, smoothies and soups, providing protein, fibre and high quality fats to these meals.
- Increases feelings of satiety and reduces appetite for several hours.
- Helps reverse constipation and contributes to the balance of the intestinal flora.
How does flaxseed protect cardiovascular health?
The lignin present in flaxseed is an antioxidant that protects the body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals rapidly increase one's risk of developing heart disease. Omega-3’s specifically target cholesterol levels and prevent plaque from forming inside the artery walls. They also help in decreasing inflammation responses, a defence mechanism that at extreme levels, can provoke heart disease.
Because lignin acts as a soluble fibre, it helps lower blood cholesterol by removing “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) from our blood. Magnesium is a key mineral for the proper functioning of heart muscle. Vitamin E has high levels of antioxidants that have actions similar to those of lignin.
How should flaxseed be consumed to lower cholesterol?
Omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids are not the only hypolipidemic agents present in linseed. The soluble fibre inside flaxseed also plays a key role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. It acts like a sponge in the stomach and intestines that "traps" cholesterol from food and facilitates its storage in the liver or its elimination through the lower part of our digestive tract.
To take full advantage of the soluble fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed must be ground and/or soaked before consumption. Otherwise, the hard outer layer of the seed won’t allow the digestive enzymes to act on the nutrients inside it (fats, soluble fibre, proteins). The flaxseed will simply be eliminated in the faeces, without a chance for its nutrients to be absorbed and utilised by the small intestine.
Should whole flaxseed be "activated" before consumption?
What foods can flaxseed be incorporated into?
Linseed flour can be mixed with other flours to make breads, biscuits, bread sticks, scones and more. It is also great when used alone or mixed with other oils for salad dressings or other condiments like vegan mayonnaise.
Why is the magnesium present in linseed so important?
Can flaxseed supplementation help you lose weight?
In a weight loss plan, its best to take 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed, accompanied by a full glass of water half an hour before any main meal. It is essential to accompany the linseed with plenty of water. While ground flaxseed has the ability to reduce the appetite, capsules and linseed oil also provide powerful effects by others means.
How does flaxseed help regulate bowel function?
Together, the soluble and insoluble fibre present in flaxseed promote complete intestinal cleansing without causing pain, discomfort or colics. To treat or prevent constipation, flax seeds should be ingested ground and accompanied by plenty of liquid (water, milkshake, milk, vegetable drink, etc.)
Remember that without liquid, flaxseed is not able to carry out its gentle laxative effect.
Who should take flaxseed supplements?
- Heart disease or a family history of heart disease.
- Arthritis (disease that involves inflammation of joints) and osteoarthritis (deterioration of joint cartilage).
- Hypercholesterolemia (above normal blood cholesterol levels).
- Atherosclerosis (a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries).
Why is flaxseed considered an anti-carcinogenic food?
A study of melanoma in mice showed that flaxseed reduced the number and size of tumours and it also decreased the risk of metastasis. Moreover, omega-3 fatty acids help prevent cancer by fighting inflammation. In conclusion, flaxseed consumption has been linked to lower incidence of breast, colon and prostate cancer.
In order to obtain the above mentioned benefits, what is the recommended dose of flaxseed that should be ingested?
Flaxseed capsules should be consumed in doses of 1 or 2 units per day, depending on the concentration.
Are there negative side effects associated with the consumption of flaxseed ?
No supplement is exempt from contraindications and flaxseed is no different. Just as they can be very beneficial in preventing certain diseases, they can also worsen others. Flaxseed supplements are usually safe for the general population. However, the consumption of this superfood is not advised in cases of:
- Diverticulitis: When the diverticula within the intestinal tract become inflamed and bleeding occurs, foods rich in fibre, including flaxseed, should be avoided.
- People taking chronic medication: Because flaxseed forms a gel-like substance in the stomach and intestines, this may decrease drug absorption. A good measure is to consume flaxseed 2 to 3 hours after taking the medication.
- Children, pregnant women and infants: As there are no studies to ensure that flaxseed supplements are safe at these stages, these demographics should proceed with caution before incorporating them into their diet.
- People who are suffering from breast, prostate or other cancers: Flaxseed lignin exerts a slight hormonal shift that can interfere with the onset of certain diseases and their treatment.
What is the difference between chia seed oil, linseed oil and cod liver oil?
All are omega-3s, but the ALA of flax and chia does not replace the DHA and EPA of cod liver oil. The three types of omega-3 protect cardiovascular and joint health, and contribute to lowering cholesterol. The differentiating properties in DHA and EPA within cod liver oil come down to their functionality in the health of the brain and nervous system.
Cod liver oil prevents neurodegenerative pathologies such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia and Parkinson's disease. It also promotes eye health. However, this oil is not suitable for vegans and may be contaminated with heavy metals if it has not been produced under strict quality control standards.
|Flaxseed oil||Chia seed oil||Cod liver oil|
|Does it offer cardiovascular protection?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Does it help lower blood cholesterol?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Does it relieve pain in joint disease?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Does it improve brain function (memory and learning)?||No||No||Yes|
|Does visual health improve?||No||No||Yes|
|Does it contain phytoestrogens?||Yes||No||No|
|Toxicity risk||Very low||Very low||Very high (heavy metals and other toxicants). It is very important to be aware of the presence of contamination during production.|
|Suitable for vegans||Yes||Yes||No|
|Flavour||Mild, Almost neutral.||Soft, pleasant, nut-like.||Intense, very odorous.|
What types of flaxseed supplements are there and which one is the right one for me?
As we mentioned above, there are a handful of flaxseed products and each of them have distinct properties and benefits. Even if a supplement is of excellent quality, it may not be the right one to suit your needs. When buying a linseed supplement you should first choose between:
- Whole flaxseed
- Ground flaxseed
- Flaxseed meal
- Linseed oil
- Linseed oil capsules
Whole flaxseed is a source of protein (20%), fibre (28%) and omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids (40%). If it is not crushed or soaked before consumption, it will act only as a laxative and pass through the body without leaving behind its key nutrients: lignin, mucilages, vitamin E, magnesium, proteins and healthy fats.
Ground flax seed provides 20% protein, 40% fat and 26% fibre. When crushing the seed, a small amount of fibre is lost. However, ground flaxseed is highly digestible, especially if soaked in water (germination). The more the supplement can be absorbed by the system, the more likely you are to reap the benefits of this nutrient-dense product.
Once the flaxseed is pressed to extract the oil, a dry mass of plant material is left over. After going through a thorough grinding process, linseed flour is made. Because of this process, flour is more concentrated in protein (38%) and fibre (35%) and lower in fats (23%) than the raw seed. When using linseed meal, it’s recommended to mix it with other types of flour.
Flaxseed oil consists primarily of pure omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acid chains. The best way to preserve the excellent quality of these fats is to obtain the oil through a profess of cold pressing. Remember that high temperatures alter the chemical structure of the fatty acid chain in the oil, destroying its medicinal properties. So keeping the oil at room temperature or colder is crucial to the preservation of its nutrient properties.
Linseed oil capsules
Linseed capsules are made-up of pure flaxseed oil, encapsulated by a plant-based casing called hydroxypropyl methyl-cellulose, which makes these products suitable for vegans. Like simple flaxseed oil, these capsules provide no fibre or protein, only the healthy fatty acid chains, and vitamin E.
Although the nutritional and medicinal properties of flaxseed are great, there are still many other factors one should consider before making a final purchase. Evaluating every aspect of any new product of interest is your obligation as a responsible consumer, and it is a fundamental step in risk prevention. The main characteristics to consider when purchasing flaxseed supplements include:
Flaxseed has a mild, nutty taste, which should be taken into account when using it in the preparation of baked goods. Flaxseed oil has a more potent, and intense flavour than sunflower oil. However, if the taste has become bitter, this is a sign that the product could be rancid. If you’re looking for a supplement with a more neutral taste, opt for capsules.
Method of ingestion
Whole and ground flaxseed and flaxseed meals need to be mixed with other foods or liquids to be consumed. Remember that the seeds must be ground to allow a full release of their nutrients. Oils can be used as an ingredient in fresh dressings, or drizzled on top of salads alone. Last not least, the capsules are easy to take while on the go, just accompany them with a generous amount of water to swallow them.
All linseed-based products should be stored in a cool, dark place without excessive ventilation. Oxygen, light and high temperatures can deteriorate the integrity of its fatty acids, causing them to be rancid. The smell and taste caused by rancid seeds is definitely something we want to keep in mind and make sure to avoid. The capsules come in a bottle and should be kept there at all times until ready to use to ensure proper preservation.
Linseed and its different supplement formats are one of the amazing plant products that, because of their abnormally high level of numerous vitamins and minerals, have medicinal properties. However, each product should be used for the specific illnesses or areas of the body that they can best target. For example, taking flaxseed oil is useless if you want to normalise blood glucose or treat constipation. The following table summarises the use of each supplement.
|Whole flaxseed||Ground flaxseed||Linseed meal||Flaxseed oil||Linseed oil capsules|
|Flavour||Mild, nut-like||Mild, nut-like||Mild, nut-like||Mild, but more intense than sunflower oil.||Neutral|
|Percentage of fat||40-41%||40-41%||23%||100%||100%|
|Presence of mucilages and lignin (fibre)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Recommended use||If not crushed they are only useful for cases of constipation. To enrich preparations and control and prevention of diabetes.||Same use as ground flax seed.||Lower blood cholesterol.||Reduce inflammation and soothe joint pain.||Same as flaxseed oil.|
Those who consume only organic products should look for a nutritional label seal that guarantees the absence of agrochemicals and artificial additives. Vegans should double-check the ingredient list that nothing within the product is of animal origin. Coeliacs may only consume products certified gluten-free.
Flaxseed and its supplements offer important health benefits, especially for those who suffer from constipation, high cholesterol or have a history of CVD. Regular flaxseed consumption can have a positive impact on diabetic, hypertensive and overweight individuals.
Linseed is very versatile and adapts to a variety of recipes. Its taste is pleasant and its price is very reasonable. Because of this, it is a valuable tool for improving the nutritional status of both children and adults without involving major changes in budget or in eating habits.
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