Everything You Wanted To Know About Flaxseed

Most of the plants we eat begin their lives as seeds. Everything they will become is packed into those tiny (or sometimes not so tiny) packages, along with just the right blend of nutrients to start a sprout off on the right foot- or maybe I should say, the right root!

It should be no surprise then that certain seeds are incredibly healthy for humans– rich in proteins, fiber, fatty acids, and other essential compounds. Some seeds you probably already eat often, even though you might not think of them as seeds: chickpeas, peanuts, rice, quinoa, and so on.

Today we’ll have a look at the ins and outs of a super-seed, long-lauded but still unknown to many and misunderstood by many more: flaxseed.

Read on to learn what this alkalizing Foundation Food can do for your overall health and for your bones!

What’s In Flaxseed?

Flaxseed (sometimes known as linseed) is chock full of bone essential nutrients, so naturally it contains many which you’ll recognize as Foundation Supplements, marked below with an asterisk.

Omega-3 Fatty Acid

Flaxseed contains a large amount of omega-3 fatty acid, primarily in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. Only chia seeds surpass them in content level. ALA fats are used by the body for energy, and can help prevent heart disease and lower your blood pressure.1 The compound has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack2, lower cholesterol, and improve inflammation.3

Lignans

Flaxseed is the best source of plant polyphenols known as lignans, which are the main source of dietary phytoestrogens. Although phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors, their estrogenic activity is much weaker than endogenous estrogens, and they antagonize and even block estrogen’s activity in some tissues. The food with the next highest concentration is sesame seeds, and they contain only a seventh as much as flaxseed. Lignans are fiber-like compounds, and offer many of the benefits of fiber, but they also contribute to the antioxidant action of flaxseed. They reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels,4 which is related to effects like boosting the immune system5 and lowering the risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.5

Lignans have also been shown to reduce the risk of many cancers, including breast cancer6, prostate cancer and colon cancer.7

Manganese*

This trace mineral is imperative for the production of the connective tissue in cartilage and bone, as well as combining with copper and zinc to form a powerful antioxidant that is a major player in bone health. It’s also involved in protein synthesis, fatty acid metabolism, blood clotting, and in the synthesis of thyroxine, the main hormone of the thyroid gland.

Copper*

It can be a little mind-bending to realize that our bodies contain metals, but this copper is found in all body tissues and a great many physical processes. One of the most bone-significant of those is the production of collagen, which is essential for the bone matrix. Additionally, copper supports functions of the immune system, the brain, the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and your skin, blood vessels, and joints.

Vitamin B1*

Vitamin B1 is another name for thiamin, a vitamin that supports carbohydrate metabolism, energy production and utilization, and normal nervous system functioning. While other members of the B vitamin family have been shown to have a more direct benefit for bones, the B vitamins work in concert, so it’s important to get a balance of them. Flax also contains smaller amounts of B vitamins 2, 3, 6, choline, folate, and pantothenic acid.

Magnesium*

Magnesium is essential for the production and preservation of bone, as well as a multitude of other body processes. It works synergistically with calcium, facilitating absorption and healthy bone mineralization by regulating the parathyroid gland. The recommended ratio between calcium and magnesium is 2:1, which just goes to show how bone-essential this nutrient is.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is the second most plentiful mineral in your body, after calcium. It’s essential for many functions, including waste filtration and the repair of tissue cells. It’s involved in processes including bone formation, energy storage and management, DNA and RNA production, the use and regulation of vitamins, and muscle contraction and recovery. While phosphorus wields an immense power over the health of our bones, the most common problem isn’t a deficit but an overabundance of phosphorus, which can lead to overproduction of parathyroid hormone. This hormone instructs the body to increase the calcium levels in the blood by processes that include stripping it from bones.

Selenium

This compound provides antioxidant protection by helping to construct the powerful glutathione peroxidase enzymes, which fight oxidative stress and help detoxify the body. It is also essential for maintaining healthy thyroid function. Both of these benefits are significant for whole body wellness and bone health alike.

Fiber

This plant based nutrient is, as you probably know, an essential regulator of the digestive process. Along the way, it improves cholesterol metabolism, offers cardiovascular benefits, and slows digestion, allowing for fuller absorption of nutrients while preventing blood sugar spikes. The fiber content of flaxseed is 20-40% soluble and 60-80% insoluble, both of which types are valuable.8 Because fiber binds to toxins so they can be removed from your body, it gives a boost to the liver, helping to prevent inflammation, which can help prevent fractures.

Molybdenum

This nutrient is mostly known as a “buffer” for negative reactions to sulfites consumed in foods like wine or dried fruit. It is also a component of the detoxifying enzyme sulfite oxidase, and the antioxidant superoxide dismutase. That makes it a powerful tool for protecting your body and bones from oxidative damage.

A Bevy Of Overall Health Benefits

Because of the excellent nutrients detailed above, flaxseed offers numerous benefits. Its ALA helps prevent heart disease and high cholesterol while lowering blood pressure, and it can improve skin and hair, and reduce eye dryness.9 Flaxseed also helps to achieve a healthy balance of cholesterols through its soluble fiber content, which reduces the absorption of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), a central cause of heart disease.

In a study conducted at Oklahoma State University scientists found that,

“Dietary flaxseed supplementation lowered total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) by approximately 7% and 10%, respectively,” in a cohort of 55 postmenopausal Native American women.10

Another study, published in the journal Hypertension, found flaxseed to create the “largest decrease in BP (blood pressure) ever shown by any dietary intervention.”11 That study followed 110 patients over the course of a full year. The participants ate a variety of foods, including bagels, muffins, and buns that had been amped up with 30g of milled flaxseed.

Six months into the study, systolic blood pressure was ~10mm Gh lower and diastolic was ~7 mm Gh lower in the flaxseed group. Those participants who started out the study with high blood pressure saw the most pronounced improvements.11

And this isn’t the only experiment that shows that consuming flaxseed regularly can have impressive results for lowering blood pressure, which may prevent potentially deadly stroke or heart attack.

A study from 2011 set out to investigate the impact of flaxseed powder on diabetes, which concludes that:

“The efficacy of supplementation with FS (flaxseed) was evaluated through a battery of clinico-biochemical parameters. Supplementation with FS reduced fasting blood glucose by 19.7% and glycated hemoglobin by 15.6%. A favorable reduction in total cholesterol (14.3%), triglycerides (17.5%), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (21.8%), and apolipoprotein B and an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (11.9%) were also noticed. These observations suggest the therapeutic potential of FS in the management of diabetes mellitus.”12

Those figures are impressive, indicating that flax seed offers an effective means of managing and preventing diabetes.

Flax Has Plant Power

Flaxseed’s many valuable polyphenols help regulate hormone levels and fight oxidative stress, which can reduce inflammation and boost immune function. This keeps you healthy in a multitude of ways, and clears the path for maximal bone formation.

Phytosterols, a polyphenol compound found in flaxseed, help regulate cholesterol levels, while the lignans bind with bile acids and eliminate them from the body, furthering the same goal.

Flaxseed fiber content has been shown to help with weight loss by reducing appetite in a study conducted on 18 young men over the course of a day.13 Fiber also acts to fill the stomach and help prevent overeating.

Other plant compounds such as p-coumaric acid and ferulic acid provide additional antioxidant support, having been shown to eliminate bad bacteria14 and prevent chronic diseases15, respectively.

A Warning About Ground Flaxseed

Like many other foods, flaxseed contains thiocyanates, which are toxic cyanogenic glycoside (CG) compounds. These CGs have the potential to be transformed inside the body into hydrogen cyanide, which is a deadly poison when concentrated enough.

Fortunately, our body is equipped to handle the presence of these potentially damaging compounds, and their content in flaxseed isn’t very large. While one tablespoon of flaxseed meal contains about 5-6 mg of CGs, the amount of orally ingested sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide that causes dangerous toxicity in humans is in the thousands of milligrams.

Some of the powerful positive impacts of flaxseed may have a negative result for certain people. For example, its fiber-derived laxative qualities might be a downside for those suffering from IBS, Crohn’s, or ulcerative colitis.

It’s hormone-like impacts, while linked to cancer-fighting qualities, might also create significant and potentially negative changes in women with hormone-related health conditions, or in pregnant women.

Generally these potential problems arise under the condition that large amounts of flaxseed are being consumed. Moderation is a great rule of thumb in this, like most things, and you can avoid any uncertainty about CG levels simply by consuming whole flaxseeds. However, bear in mind that ground flaxseed offers greater micronutrient bioavailability.

How To Work Flaxseed Into Your Diet

If you’re imagining yourself grumbling while chomping on a small handful of dry seeds every day, here’s good news: there are lots of great ways to incorporate flaxseed into the meals you already make and love.

Smoothies

Fruit and veggie smoothies are a super bone-healthy option, and you can take them to the next level by adding in some flaxseed.

Breadcrumb Substitute

Anything that was going to call for a breadcrumb coating or mix-in, such as breaded salmon filets, could be pumped up with some ground flaxseed.

Salads

Sprinkle flax seeds onto salads for tasty nutty topping. You can even toast them lightly before hand to enhance their flavor. You could also mix them directly into your dressings, or use ground flaxseed to give your dressing a thicker texture.

Yogurt/Oatmeal/Cereal

Flaxseed can be easily incorporated into your favorite morning yogurt mix. Try a fruit and flaxseed combo with greek yogurt, a nice autumnal bowl of oatmeal, or even as a cereal topping.

In Baked Goods

You can replace a little bit of flour with ground flaxseed in muffins, breads, or other baked goods. Or create a vegan egg-substitute by mixing one tablespoon of finely ground flaxseed and three tablespoons of warm water to replace one large egg. That thickening property is also useful for soups or sauces.

Replace Sesame Seeds

Any recipe that has sesame seeds is ready for flaxseeds, just substitute one seed for another, and you’ll get a great dose of whole flaxseed. This is particularly handy in homemade granola or granola bars!

If these sorts of ideas for incorporating a bone-healthy food into your diet are exciting to you, then you’ll love the Save Institute’s recipe book and meal planner Bone Appétit. It includes more than 200 delicious bone-building recipes for bone-smart soups, salads, entrees, and the list goes on. From appetizer to dessert, breakfast to dinner, Bone Appétit has something for everyone, every time.

Eat Your Way to Stronger Bones!

Discover over 200 mouth-watering bone healthy recipes for breakfast, smoothies, appetizers, soups, salads, vegetarian dishes, fish, and plenty of main courses and even desserts!

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Use the tips above to take your favorite recipes to the next level of bone rejuvenating power. At first you might feel resistant to adding new foods to your diet, but the more you take the leap and improve the way you eat, the more you’ll discover the joy and power in using food to improve your health and your life.

Till next time,

References:

1Harper CR, Jacobson TA. “The fats of life: the role of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of coronary heart disease.” Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(18):2185-2192. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11575974
2Zatonski W, Campos H, Willett W. “Rapid declines in coronary heart disease mortality in Eastern Europe are associated with increased consumption of oils rich in alpha-linolenic acid.” Eur J Epidemiol. 2008;23(1):3-10. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17955332
3Okamoto M, Misunobu F, Ashida K, et al. “Effects of dietary supplementation with n-3 fatty acids compared with n-6 fatty acids on bronchial asthma.” Int Med. 2000;39(2):107-111. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10732825
4Simopoulos AP. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909
5Almario RU, Karakas SE. “Lignan content of the flaxseed influences its biological effects in healthy men and women.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2013;32(3):194-9. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23885993
6McCann SE, Hootman KC, Weaver AM, Thompson LU, Morrison C, Hwang H, Edge SB, Ambrosone CB, Horvath PJ, Kulkarni SA. “Dietary intakes of total and specific lignans are associated with clinical breast tumor characteristics.” J Nutr. 2012 Jan;142(1):91-8. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22113872
7Webb AL, McCullough ML. “Dietary lignans: potential role in cancer prevention.” Nutr Cancer. 2005;51(2):117-31. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15860433
8Slavin JL “Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber.“ J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Oct;108(10):1716-31. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18953766
9Cunnane SC, Ganguli S, Menard C, Liede AC, Hamadeh MJ, Chen ZY, Wolever TM, Jenkins DJ. “High alpha-linolenic acid flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum): some nutritional properties in humans.” Br J Nutr. 1993 Mar;69(2):443-53. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8098222
10Patade A, Devareddy L, Lucas EA, Korlagunta K, Daggy BP, Arjmandi BH. “Flaxseed reduces total and LDL cholesterol concentrations in Native American postmenopausal women.” J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2008 Apr;17(3):355-66. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18328014
11Rodriguez-leyva D, Weighell W, Edel AL, et al. “Potent antihypertensive action of dietary flaxseed in hypertensive patients.” Hypertension. 2013;62(6):1081-1089. Web: http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2014-02/flaxseed-reduces-high-blood-pressure
12Mani UV1, Mani I, Biswas M, Kumar SN. “An open-label study on the effect of flax seed powder (Linum usitatissimum) supplementation in the management of diabetes mellitus.” J Diet Suppl. 2011 Sep;8(3):257-65. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22432725
13Kristensen M, Savorani F, Christensen S, Engelsen SB, Bügel S, Toubro S, Tetens I, Astrup A. “Flaxseed dietary fibers suppress postprandial lipemia and appetite sensation in young men.” Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 Feb;23(2):136-43. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802266
14Zaixiang, et al. “p-Coumaric acid kills bacteria through dual damage mechanisms” Food Control. Volume 25, Issue 2, June 2012, Pages 550-554. Web: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713511005044
15Srinivasan M, Sudheer AR, Menon VP. “Ferulic Acid: therapeutic potential through its antioxidant property.” J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2007 Mar;40(2):92-100. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18188410

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24 comments. Leave Yours Now →
  1. Emile from South Africa November 29, 2017, 2:21 am

    Dear Vivian, your reference in this article (and others) regarding the alkalising effect of foodstuff refers. I have the USDA list of foods that were analysed for acidifying and alkalising potential and it does not correspond with your take on whether it is alkalising or acidifying. Could you perhaps elaborate/enlighten me? (eg. flax seed is seen as acidifying -USDA)

  2. Sherry October 2, 2017, 12:27 pm

    I take Flaxseed Oil in capsules: would that give the same affect as the Flaxseeds?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA October 2, 2017, 7:30 pm

      Hi Sherry,

      Flaxseed oil is beneficial, but it is not the same thing as whole flaxseeds. Like olives and olive oil, they are different products from the same source, and therefore have different benefits. 🙂

  3. Renaye Andrews September 28, 2017, 2:52 am

    I’m currently taking a flaxseed oil softgel. Does it matter if it’s organic Or drugstore brand. And does it help at all with bones at all in this form?(softgel)? I really appreciate your help and All your helpful information!Thankyou! Renaye Andrews

  4. Rosaline Corcoran September 23, 2017, 8:08 am

    Hi Vivienne

    This is just a general query, not about flax seeds, interesting as the article is. I was wondering if you have heard of the Paleo diet? My husband has been diagnosed with IPF and on doing research my daughter has discovered this Paleo diet which is, apparently, life changing. It eliminates quite a few healthy items though which is a bit confusing and troubling so I was wondering if you have any comments. Thank you.

  5. DEBBIE September 23, 2017, 7:56 am

    Dear Eva
    thank you for all the work you do and passing on your knowledge to us, much appreciated.
    i have been taking Ostiobon for 3.5 years, my bone density has got worse. i have come off it now against my doctors advise. a specialist friend said if i didnt take Ostiobon i should take HRT, which I don’t want to either. I am a vegetarian, 58 year old, very small built, fit woman. your opinion please Eva? and sorry where will i view your reply? thank you very much. debbie

  6. Glory September 22, 2017, 4:09 pm

    I’ve researched studies on flaxseed and found that we need to eat them ground up, not whole, because most of the time we pass them through our system when they’re whole. That said, most people don’t know that once flaxseed is ground up, it starts to lose its potency. Therefore, it’s best to grind it shortly before using it. It’s also okay to grind up flaxseed for the week and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. One to two tablespoons per day is plenty. I add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to one 16 oz smoothie.

    I use a clean coffee bean grinder to grind the seed. (Or a dry blender works well, too.)

    It’s harder to find raw whole flaxseed these days. Aldi and Trader Joe’s only sell two kinds of flaxseed: Whole roasted flaxseed and ground up flaxseed. I’ve written them both to request that they bring back the whole raw seeds and told them why. They said they don’t have a demand for it. That’s because most people don’t yet know that they should start with the whole raw seed and grind it themselves.

  7. Susan Rhame September 22, 2017, 12:36 pm

    I usually add High Lignan Flaxseed Oil to my smoothies. Other than not getting fiber, does the oil provide most of the other health benefits as the ground seeds?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA September 22, 2017, 2:18 pm

      Aside from its fiber content, ground flaxseed contains protein, minerals and vitamins that are virtually absent in the oil.

  8. Janet September 22, 2017, 11:42 am

    Hi – First of all, thank you Vivian, for your tireless work in helping people live more healthful lives… Secondly, regarding flaxseed, is it okay to take a flaxseed supplement?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA September 22, 2017, 2:08 pm

      You’re very welcome, Janet! You can certainly take flaxseed softgels, but while they offer a more concentrated form of Omega 3, they typicall don’t contain the lignans (unless you get the high lignan oil), minerals and fiber.

  9. Anna Philpova September 22, 2017, 9:45 am

    Thanks a lot for this article. The questions I wanted to ask are already above. Looking forward to the answer. Btw I appreciate your emails, thank you. Anna

    • Barbara Klein-Robuck September 22, 2017, 11:45 am

      are ground flaxseeds dangerous to pets??
      thought the oil is good for tier skin and helps alleviate itching

      • Sandra September 22, 2017, 12:56 pm

        My veterinarian has me giving flaxseed to my dog, so it must be safe.

  10. Maralyn September 22, 2017, 8:53 am

    I have a tablespoon of ground flaxseed in my porridge every morning.how much do you recommend every day

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA September 22, 2017, 10:26 am

      Maralyn, one to two tablespoons is the recommended dosage 🙂

  11. Betty September 22, 2017, 4:50 am

    Dear Vivian, Thank you for another interesting email and this time about flax seeds etc. I made the most scrumptious puddings with chia seeds but suffered dreadfully afterwards and wondered why until I was diagnosed with diverticulosis. I have to avoid seeds but wondered if I could grind flax seeds and perhaps chia seeds. I make my own spelt bread so could maybe add ground seeds with the spelt. Will be most grateful for your comments in view of your vast experience. I love your exercise emails as I have osteoporosis. Nothing simple! Betty

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA September 22, 2017, 10:25 am

      Great question, Betty! You could try adding a small amount of ground chia and flaxseed to your spelt bread, and then see how you feel. Everyone reacts differently, so it’s impossible to predict your reaction… If you get a flare up, then you can simply get the nutrients from other sources, such as fish oil supplements.

  12. irena September 22, 2017, 3:48 am

    Could you explain if one can really absorb anything from the whole seeds or do they pass unchanged through the digestive system? Is there a difference in CGs levels between raw and roasted seeds? How much flaxseed per day should one eat to get all the benefits? Thank you.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA September 22, 2017, 10:20 am

      Nutrients are more bioavailable when the flaxseeds are ground, and in order to preserve their rich nutrient content, it’s best to eat them raw (whether ground or whole). Should you wish to roast them, use low heat. And one to two tablespoons a day is a good dosage.

  13. Linda September 22, 2017, 3:46 am

    Also a warning about whole flaxseed: I was eating whole flaxseed because I didn’t have a grinder. When I went to the doctor with stomach pain, I was diagnosed with diverticulosis.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA September 22, 2017, 9:56 am

      While seeds can get lodged in the diverticula, according to the Mayo Clinic there is no scientific evidence that they cause diverticulitis flares. That being said, it’s best to avoid them if you’ve already had a bad experience.

  14. Eva September 22, 2017, 2:30 am

    Dear Vivian,Idon’t understand what the warning about the groundFlaxseeds,and after when I’m reading is recommended to sprinkle ground flaxseeds to your smoothies please explain.Thank you

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA September 22, 2017, 9:52 am

      Eva, ground flaxseed contains thiocyanate, and as its name implies, it is made up of cyanide and sulfur. However, moderation is the key. As today’s article explains:

      “While one tablespoon of flaxseed meal contains about 5-6 mg of CGs, the amount of orally ingested sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide that causes dangerous toxicity in humans is in the thousands of milligrams.”

      It’s interesting to note that many other foods also contain it, including bananas, strawberries, almonds, carrots, lima beans – to mention a few.

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