Flaxseed is one of the oldest crops in existence. It has been cultivated since the beginning of civilization and utilized for a variety of health benefits. The name flaxseed in its Latin form, Linum usitatissimum, even translates to “very useful.”
Flaxseed contains ingredients that are important to maintaining a healthy diet, like fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals. But there are three key ingredients that make flaxseeds such a popular superfood—fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans. Read on to find out about the different forms of flaxseed, where to buy flaxseed, and flaxseed uses and benefits.
Where to Buy Flaxseed
Due to its popularity and increasing awareness around its health benefits, flaxseed has become widely available. It comes in many forms including whole, ground, oil, and oil supplements. It can be purchased in whole or ground form at most grocery stores or specialty food stores.
Flaxseed oil is also easily attainable. It can be found at several health stores, pharmacies, grocery stores, and online. Flaxseed oil supplements are available at most vitamin and health stores as well as online retailers.
Nutrition experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend consuming ground flaxseed instead of whole flaxseed. This is because ground flaxseed is easier to digest. If consumed whole, flaxseed may pass through the digestive system without being properly broken down or absorbed, which means the consumer misses out on the health benefits. Ground flaxseed can be easily added to smoothies and smoothie bowls.
Flaxseed has the potential to benefit individuals with a variety of health concerns including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. Some studies suggest these potential health benefits are due to flaxseed’s three key ingredients: fiber, lignans, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Fiber: Flaxseed contains both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and may help lower cholesterol as well as regulate blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Instead, insoluble fiber absorbs water in the digestive tract, which helps regulate movement through the gut. This may help relieve constipation. Too much flaxseed, however, may lead to diarrhea, so it should be consumed gradually and allowed time to take effect.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Flaxseed omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help with heart health, eye health, arthritis, and brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids also act as anti-inflammatories. Prolonged inflammation in the body has been shown to lead to tumor growth, so anti-inflammatories may offer an anti-cancer effect on the body. Omega-3 fatty acids also have positive effects on the cardiovascular system, helping to regulate blood pressure and heartbeat.
Lignans: Lignans are a form of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are found in plants and have anti-cancer effects on the body. They act as antioxidants, eliminating dangerous cancer-causing cells from the body before they have the chance to go rogue. A study published by Cancer Causes and Control revealed that lignans are associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.
While flaxseed is usually consumed whole or ground, a third option is flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is the result of flaxseeds being ground until their natural oil releases. Doses will vary depending upon the individual and should always be discussed with a physician before being consumed or used for medicinal purposes.
Flaxseed Oil Benefits
According to WebMD, flaxseed oil is largely used for its anti-inflammatory properties and is a popular treatment for rheumatoid arthritis patients. In addition to medicinal purposes, flaxseed oil is used as cooking oil and as a topical skin treatment. Studies have shown the following benefits of flaxseed oil:
- Decreased skin sensitivity
- Treatment of inflammatory skin diseases
- Reduced inflammation
- Treatment of constipation
- Lowered blood pressure