Flax: A Seedy Ingredient With Tons of Health Benefits
In our 99 Smoothie Mix-Ins post, we talked about how flax seeds contain 133% of the omega-3 fatty acids that you need every day, making them excellent for improving your hair, skin, and nails.
But flax seeds aren’t only good for your looks! Omega-3s are amazing for other aspects of your health, too, and flax seeds also contain lignans, both soluble and insoluble fiber, and vitamin B1. They may be tiny, but they’re definitely a superfood.
Because flax seeds are so small and difficult to chew, many people choose to buy ground flax seed so that their bodies can extract every nutrient from them more easily. If you’re consuming flax seeds for the health benefits, consider grinding them or buying them pre-ground!
When they’re added to a smoothie, baked good, or hot cereal, ground flax seeds won’t change the texture or flavor very much at all! They blend right in, giving you tons of health benefits without sacrificing anything you love about your food.
What are omega-3 fatty acids, anyway? First of all, they’re essential fatty acids, which means that we need them but our bodies can’t manufacture them. In other words, we have to get omega-3s from the foods we eat, and flax seeds are one of the best sources for them.
Not only do omega-3s keep hair, skin, and nails strong and shiny, they’re also essential for a healthy brain, both for adults and for developing babies and children. Many prenatal vitamins now include omega-3s for this reason.
The benefits that have made flax seeds popular mostly have to do with heart health, one of the benefits of the omega-3s flax seeds are so rich in. Omega-3 fatty acids improve HDL cholesterol, the “good cholesterol” that promotes a healthy heart. In conjunction with a healthy overall diet, omega-3s play a huge role in protecting your heart from disease by reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and improving cholesterol levels.
If you’ve never heard of lignans before, you’re not alone. These phytonutrients get a lot less hype than omega-3 fatty acids have lately, but they’re no less important to your health. Lignans are high in antioxidants and help your body regulate the hormones that keep both men and women healthy throughout their lives.
Whereas the omega-3s in flax seeds primarily increase “good cholesterol” levels, the lignans in flax seeds can actually reduce levels of “bad cholesterol,” making flax seeds a serious powerhouse for cardiovascular health.
Because of the way they help your body regulate hormones, the lignans in flax seeds also have beneficial effects for reproductive health and prostate health. Lignans can even reduce your risk of prostate, ovarian, uterine, and colon cancers. One study even found that they could reduce the symptoms of menopause!
You probably associate fiber with big, fibrous vegetables like broccoli, greens, corn, and Brussels sprouts. But fiber can come in small packages, too. Some other great sources of fiber are raspberries, avocados, chia seeds, and, you guessed it… flax seeds!
Flax seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, and you need both kinds to stay super healthy. They’re both great for your digestive system, and may even lower your risk of heart disease. One tiny tablespoon of flax seed contains 11% of the fiber you need every day, which makes them an excellent addition to your breakfast: by 9am you’ll already have a significant portion of the fiber you need, no matter what you eat later in the day.
If you want to take advantage of all of the fiber in flax seeds, you’ll definitely want to buy ground ones to add to your meals or recipes. Your body will easily absorb the fiber and nutrients in ground flax seed, whereas whole flax seeds might not be thoroughly digested, wasting the nutrients you’re looking for.
Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
Flax seeds contain almost 20% of the thiamin you need every day. Also known as vitamin B1, thiamin is one of the B-complex vitamins that your body needs to function at its best. Thiamin is necessary for our bodies to properly metabolize carbohydrates, which makes it a great nutrient to include when you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your current weight.
Because of its effects on carbohydrate metabolism, thiamin is used to treat metabolic disorders, especially genetic ones that are inherited. Thiamine is also used to improve digestion and relieve indigestion, as well as to treat immune disorders including AIDS. It is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system that can fight off the common cold as well as more serious diseases.
Although it hasn’t been scientifically proven, thiamin is thought to improve athletic performance, as well. Some athletes believe that it improves their endurance and muscle strength. Some people also supplement their diets with thiamin to relieve stress and poor appetite, but this hasn’t been proven, either.
What’s definitely true is that flax seeds contain a good amount of the vitamin B1 you need every day! The fact that thiamin helps maintain a good metabolism is an added bonus.
Getting Flax Seeds Into Your Diet
At a loss for how to make flax seeds part of your healthy diet? There’s so much you can do with them besides add them to your smoothies! Here are some of our favorite ideas:
- Essential EatingWell Chocolate Bundt Cake. A healthy chocolate cake?! Well… a healthier one, anyway! You still don’t want to pig out on this cake, but it contains so many more healthy ingredients than your average chocolate cake: ground flax seeds, nuts full of healthy fat, prune puree, and buttermilk instead of super fattening butter. But it still tastes moist and delicious! Make this for your next party and see if anyone even notices that it’s “healthy.”
- Winter Greens Salad with Flax Seeds, Shaved Beets, and Radishes. This salad is easy, colorful, and crammed with amazing nutrients to keep you going strong through the cold months of the year. If you can find watermelon radishes, use them for an even more beautiful pop of color in your salad. If you have guests, they’re sure to be impressed with this gourmet dish. Add blue cheese or grilled chicken to make a meal.
- Healthy Pancake Mix. Instead of processed white flour and melted butter, this pancake mix calls for whole-wheat flour, bran, and canola oil, and it includes a whole cup of ground flax seed for a huge nutritional boost. You can mix up the dry ingredients and store them in the pantry for fast, easy, healthy pancakes whenever you need them, even on the busiest morning. When they’re mixed up, these pancakes give you a whopping 20% of your daily fiber, plus 12 grams of protein and relatively little fat.
- Banana-Flax Breakfast Muffins. These super delicious muffins rely on buttermilk and bananas for their rich, moist texture. With bananas, ground flax seed, blueberries, and bran cereal, they’re packed with fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals. They’re the perfect balanced breakfast or energy-boosting afternoon snack, and they taste like an indulgent dessert.
Looking for more ways to get heart-healthy, balanced nutrition? Check out our IdealShake, a meal replacement shake with 21 vitamins and minerals, at least 16% of the fiber you need every day, and only 3g of fat per serving!