Wellness

All The Secret Health Boosts You Can Get From Flaxseeds

They give chia seeds a run for their money.

Experts explain the many health benefits of flaxseeds.
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From chia to hemp, the super seed world is filled with lots of healthy competition. While it's easy to get used to chia pudding or sprinkles of hemp seed in your trail mix, their counterpart flaxseed can be just as delicious. In fact, the health benefits of flaxseed are really diverse.

If seniority rules, flaxseed goes way back, and some believe it to be one of the oldest crops in the world. Also called linseed, it comes from the flowering plant called flax, and it's so rich in fiber that one of its original uses was for creating clothing fabric.

Flaxseed is known for being packed full of essential vitamins and nutrients like protein and fatty acids, making it a small but mighty way to up your daily intake. "Flaxseed have a really nice nutty flavor to them," says Tamar Samuels R.D., a registered dietitian and co-founder of Culina Health. These seeds are versatile and easy to use in a wide range of recipes, but they're especially popular in simple dishes like oatmeal, smoothies, and dessert breads. Unlike some other seeds, it's important to grind flaxseed up to better absorb its nutrients since humans can't easily digest its bran exterior, says Samuel.

As is the case with other superfood seeds on the shelves, don't be fooled by their tiny size. Here are 8 health benefits of flaxseed that prove it's a nutrient worth adding to your shopping list.

1

It's High In Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Flaxseed is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, aka the healthy fats often found in fish. Jennifer Mimkha, R.D., a plant-based registered dietitian, says omega-3s are integral in brain and heart health. And, since flaxseed is plant-based, registered dietitian Kristen Carli R.D., owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness, adds that it's ideal for vegan and vegetarians looking for ways to add omega-3s to their diet.

2

It's A Great Source Of Fiber

Flaxseed is also an excellent source of fiber. According to Mimkha, a standard, two tablespoon serving contains roughly 4 grams of dietary fiber, which is more than the 1.1 grams that hemp seeds hold. That's roughly 14% of your recommended daily fiber intake, she explains, which makes it a rich source. That said, at 11 grams, chia seeds have the highest trace of fiber out of the three seeds, so pair them with your daily flaxseed serving to boost this number even more.

3

It's High In Protein

You can also turn to flaxseed for a solid dose of protein. “In two tablespoons, there are 4 grams of protein, which is pretty high for such a small amount of food," says Mimkha. Comparatively, chia seeds contain about a gram less than flaxseed, while hemp seeds have the most.

4

It's Good For Heart Health

According to Samuels, omega-3 fatty acids — as you get via flaxseed — contribute to cardiovascular disease prevention. Studies have shown that, in turn, flaxseed helps reduce that risk. “Omega-3 fatty acids in particular have been shown to decrease high triglycerides,” she says, which means they combat excess fat in the bloodstream. Samuels adds that the anti-inflammatory properties of flaxseed can aid in heart health as well.

5

It Can Help Regulate Blood Sugar

Flaxseed also plays a role in regulating blood sugar. “It's been found to reduce hemoglobin A1C, which is a marker for elevated blood sugar,” says Samuels, which means it could be helpful for those with pre-diabetes or diabetes. The main reason for this is because of the high levels of fiber in flaxseed, she explains, which can slow the absorption of blood sugar.

6

It's Good For Digestion

According to Mimkha, the high amounts of soluble fiber found in flaxseed make it incredibly beneficial for your digestive tract. "Fiber provides prebiotics, which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut and can reduce gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and constipation," she says, adding that flaxseed can help to promote regular bowel movements.

7

It Has Beauty Benefits

If your digestive system and your gut are running smoothly, it's a sign that your body has decreased inflammation — which shines through on the skin, says Mimkha. "The skin is just an external representation of what's going on internally," she tells Bustle. A recent study found that eating anti-inflammatory foods (like flaxseed) can lead to a clearer complexion.

Besides that, Mimkha adds that your hair and nails can benefit from flaxseed's rich mineral content. The seed is high in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin E, which are all micronutrients that contribute to how strong your nails are and how quickly your hair grows, she says.

8

It Can Potentially Regulate Hormones

Arguably flaxseed’s most unique health benefit is its ability to affect your menstrual cycle. According to a study in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, flaxseed contains high levels of lignans, which are phytoestrogens — plant forms of estrogen — that contribute very small amounts of estrogen in the body.

“Flaxseed has been found to actually improve your progesterone to estrogen ratio in the luteal phase, which is the PMS phase of your cycle,” Samuel says. Basically, this means eating flaxseed can potentially help regulate your PMS symptoms.

Studies referenced:

Cockerell, K M, et al. (2012), Effects of linseeds on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: a pilot randomised controlled trial, Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-277X.2012.01263.x.

Javidi A, et al. (2016), The effect of flaxseed powder on insulin resistance indices and blood pressure in prediabetic individuals: A randomized controlled clinical trial, Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5122190/.

Kajla, P. (2015). Flaxseed—a potential functional food source. Journal of food science and technology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375225/

Katta R and Desai S P, (2014), Diet and Dermatology: The Role of Dietary Intervention in Skin Disease, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106357/.

Parikh M, Netticadan T, and Pierce G. (2018), Flaxseed: its bioactive components and their cardiovascular benefits, American Journal of Physiology, https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpheart.00400.2017.

Phipps WR, et al. (1993), Effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle, National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8077314/.

McRae M. (2018), Dietary Fiber Intake and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses, Journal of Chiropractic Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5883628/.

Ren G, et al. (2016), Effect of Flaxseed Intervention on Inflammatory Marker C-Reactive Protein: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials, Nutrients MDPI, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808865/.

Rodriguez-Levya D, et al. (2010), The cardiovascular effects of flaxseed and its omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2989356/.

Slaven, J. (2013). Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705355/

Zwickey H, et al. (2019), Effect of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet in People with Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Feeding Study, J Restor Med, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6550471/.

Experts:

Kristen Carli R.D., owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness

Tamar Samuels R.D., co-founder of Culina Health

Jennifer Mimkha, plant-based registered dietitian