The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity



Health and Wellness

March 28, 2010

Flaxseeds have a very long and popular history, dating back to the Stone Age. They have been used as food, medicine, and are actually the source of fiber to make linen. Today, flaxseeds can be found throughout our supermarkets and health food stores as an increasingly common ingredient in breads, cereals, pastas, crackers and baking mixes; they can also be found whole or ground. Hands down, flaxseed and foods that contain flax can play an important role in promoting health and wellness if consumed on a regular basis.

Flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which are essential for normal gastrointestinal function. Diets rich in fiber are known to aid in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as helping to maintain a healthy weight.

One of the reasons flax has gained popularity in the past few years is that it is rich in the essential fatty acids omega 3 (linolenic) and omega 6 (linoleic). Omega 3 and 6 are essential because they play a fundamental physiological role and cannot be synthesized by the body – omega 3 and 6 must be supplied by the diet. The typical American diet is low in omega 3s, which are found naturally in cold water fish, like salmon and sardines, walnuts, flaxseeds, soy beans, Brussels sprouts, and a few others. Today there are various omega-fortified foods like eggs, milk, yogurts, and pastas.

Omega 3 and 6 are known for their role in protecting the brain and body cells from the physiological effects of stress, reducing heart disease risk factors, possibly reducing risk of dementia, reducing symptoms of some skin ailments, and helping support pregnancies and infant brain and eye development.

Another great thing about flaxseeds is that they are high in beneficial phytochemicals, specifically lignan, as well as various antioxidants. The lignans from flax are especially great for women as they may promote fertility, reduce peri-menopausal symptoms and possibly help reduce breast cancer risk, as well as helping to prevent type 2 diabetes.

The amazing health benefits of flaxseed can only be found in the ground seeds. Whole seeds (unless chewed really well) pass through the body undigested; as a result the health benefits of the fiber, fatty acids and antioxidants are lost.

If your consumers are looking to add flax to their diet, ground is the preferred form. Point your consumers to the health food or refrigerated section where they can find flaxseeds in a vacuum-sealed package which limits oxidation and spoilage. Flaxseeds should be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator (for up to 3 months) or freezer (for up to 6 months) to extend shelf life. Flaxseed oil is especially perishable and should be purchased and stored in an opaque bottle that has been kept refrigerated. It should not be used for cooking, which destroys all of the benefits discussed above. Flaxseed oil should be used as a finishing oil; it tastes sweet and nutty and is great on salads and in smoothies, or it can be drizzled it on your favorite meal.

A daily serving is about two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds and contains roughly 95 calories and 5 grams of fiber. A serving of flaxseed oil is one tablespoon and contains 120 calories.