It may only be a tiny seed but many believe it to be the most powerful plant food on the planet. Possibly the world's first superfood, flax cultivation became a common practise in the Mediterranean and Middle East sometime between 4000 and 2000 BC. The value of flax was both culinary and domestic as the flax fibres could also be spun into linen. The 8th King of the Franks Charlemagne believed so staunchly in the health benefits of flaxseeds he passed several laws requiring his subjects to consume it.
Flaxseed Health Benefits
Flaxseed (also known as Linseed) is now so popular The Flax Council estimates that nearly 300 new flax-based products are launched each year in North America alone. Modern research shows there is developing evidence that flaxseeds may help reduce your risk of stroke, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. They have many proven health and beauty benefits - so let’s take a look at some.
Firstly flaxseeds are very high in antioxidants which protect the body from harmful molecules called ‘free radicals’. In particular, they contain Lignan which is a unique type of plant compound known as polyphenols. They provide the antioxidant benefits for cellular health, hormone balance and even help with anti ageing properties. Lignans are also known for their antibacterial and antiviral properties which may help reduce or fight the effects of colds and flu.
If you are a woman currently going through the menopause you may also want to give flaxseeds a try as lignans have estrogenic properties. Some women have even begun using flaxseeds as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as they can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology found that not only does flaxseed seem to alleviate hot flashes but also appears to have overall health and psychological benefits as well.
Flaxseed nutrition and the skin
So we’ve mentioned that flaxseeds have anti ageing properties but how else can they help with our skin? Well, they also contain Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) an omega-3 fatty acid which can help reduce dry and flaky skin. The flaxseeds help replace the essential fats as well as b-vitamins which our skin and hair need to maintain its health. They can also improve symptoms of rosacea, eczema and acne. Flaxseeds are one of the most nutritionally dense foods we can buy, which is why they are an essential ingredient in the diets of many vegetarians and vegans. Vegans even use flaxseeds as an egg replacement in many recipes.
Flaxseeds are full of healthy fats and fibre which make you feel fuller longer leading to a reduction in the calories you are consuming. A study in the Journal of Nutrition has shown that the consumption flaxseeds may improve obesity and support weight loss. The ALA fats also help reduce inflammation which is important for weight loss as an inflamed body tends to hold onto excess weight.
ALA fats also help protect the lining of the digestive tract and maintain Gastrointestinal (GI) health. Flaxseeds can therefore, assist people who may be suffering from digestive ailments such as Crohn's or Celiac disease as it can reduce gut inflammation. Flaxseeds are very high in soluble and insoluble fibre and one of the highest magnesium foods in the world. The fibre in flaxseeds provide food for the essential bacteria in your colon that can help cleanse waste from your system.
Flaxseed heart benefits
We all need to look after our hearts especially as Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the most common cause of death in the UK. CHD is caused by several factors including the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries made up of cholesterol and other waste substances. Flaxseeds can help reduce your cholesterol level as the soluble fibre content in the seeds trap fat and cholesterol in the digestive system preventing it from being absorbed. Research shown in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that adding flaxseeds into your daily diet can not only naturally reduce cholesterol levels but also potentially play a role in energy balance.
Flaxseed in your diet
Adding flaxseeds to your diet it not difficult - you can buy them whole, in an oil or already ground. Ground flaxseeds are the easiest way for your body to absorb the nutrients but it is usually recommended that you buy them whole and grind them yourself as they can go rancid quickly due to the high fat content. In order to meet the recommended intake of ALA set by the Institute of Medicine you should be eating around 5 g of flaxseed oil or 8 g (one tablespoon) of ground flaxseed per day.
Many people have found the best way to get their daily amount is to add it to their breakfast routine by sprinkling on cereal or adding to a smoothie or yoghurt but there are also some great recipes you can follow to make these wonder seeds more fun such as this tasty one:
Breakfast Banana Flax Muffins
- 3 large banana
- ¾ cup of sugar
- 1 cup ground flaxseeds
- 1 egg
- 2-3 tbsps milk
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 ½ cup flour (plain)
- Preheat your oven to 190°c (Gas Mark 5)
- Grind your flax seeds and grease your muffin tins
- Mash bananas and mix together with flax and egg
- Stir together the dry ingredients then add to the banana mix.
- If needed you can add the milk one tbsp at a time - this will depend on the size of the bananas and consistency (the smaller the bananas the more milk needed!)
- Fill the greased muffin tins and then bake for 20 mins