Much more than just a delicate topping to sprinkle over oatmeal or a colorful acai bowl, flaxseeds have proven to be a potent powerhouse food, packed with heart-healthy benefits and protective properties. And while they may seem like such teeny seeds, don't let its small size fool you: The flaxseed (also known as linseed) is loaded with notable vitamins and nutrients such as plant-based fiber, protein, and fatty acids. In fact, the percentage of the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that's found in flaxseeds is the highest of any plant source, making this quite the superstar superfood—despite its small size.
"Flaxseeds are high in fiber, which helps to fill you up, keep you full longer, and aids in digestion and heart health," says Fresh Thyme Market's health and lifestyle expert, Meghan Sedivy, RD, LN. "They also contain omega-3 fatty acids which have been linked to several health benefits that include brain health and heart health; that may help reduce blood pressure levels and inflammation; and that help increase good cholesterol levels."
Though flaxseeds have recently gained official superfood status, research shows that they're one of the oldest cultivated crops, grown since the beginning of civilization. Flaxseeds are derived from the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum, and were primarily used to produce fiber for clothing and linens since 3000 B.C.
Having been traditionally used as an ingredient in breakfast cereals and breads, research shows that a significant number of flax products have been developed for the health food market over the last 10 years—which may explain the uptick in flaxseed popularity. Known as a very versatile super seed, you can sprinkle it into nearly anything to reap its amazing nutritional benefits: yogurt, salad, smoothies, oatmeal, cereal—the list is endless!
Here are five beneficial reasons to add flaxseeds to your grocery list ASAP, and extra tips on how to add them into your diet and reap all their healthy rewards.
They're fantastic for digestion
For those who suffer from irregularity, these tiny gems may be a key to relieving constipation. "Flaxseeds contain high amounts of fiber which may help improve digestive health," Sedivy further explains. Flaxseeds are an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk. "Eating a diet rich in fiber helps to increase the size and weight of stool and soften it to help promote and maintain regularity and prevent constipation."
They're a good source of protein
According to Piedmont Healthcare, protein is an "important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage and skin." (In fact, did you know that your hair and nails are mostly protein?) Flaxseeds are a great source of high-quality, plant-based protein. One teaspoon of flaxseeds contains nearly 2 grams of protein, so flaxseeds are a viable protein-packed option for those in search of alternatives to animal protein sources. Adding flaxseed to a salad or smoothie can help boost your protein intake.
They contain heart-healthy, polyunsaturated fats
Studies suggest that the good-for-you fats found in flaxseed (aka the almighty omega-3s), may benefit those with heart disease. "Flaxseeds have been associated with several heart health benefits: potentially reducing blood pressure levels, triglyceride levels, bad cholesterol levels, and inflammation in the body, while helping to increase good cholesterol levels," Sedivy says.
They may help lower cancer risk
In addition to the important omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed has been shown to prevent the development of cancerous tumors. This could be because flax is rich in lignans (a group of bioactive compounds that are chock-full of antioxidant properties) that may protect the body from cancer by slowing the growth of existing tumors. One human clinical study showed that eating a muffin containing 25 grams of flaxseed for 40 days demonstrated the potential to reduce tumor growth in postmenopausal women who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
They can help reduce skin inflammation
Not only is the flaxseed packed with internal nutritional benefits when eaten regularly, but it also contains massive beauty benefits when applied directly to the skin. Because flaxseeds are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3s, they can help curb inflammation in the skin. Flax fiber has also been shown to have a promote a healing effect on the skin. One small study found that women who used flaxseed oil daily led to improved skin elasticity, increased hydration and a brighter complexion.
How to Incorporate More Flaxseeds Your Diet
"One of my favorite ways to include flaxseeds is adding them to your favorite breakfast batters like breads, pancakes, or waffles," Sedivy suggests. "They're virtually tasteless, and when ground they won't change the texture of your batter. This is a simple way to add nutrients to your meal without sacrificing taste or flavor." And again, you can toss them over salads and veggies, oatmeal and smoothies, add them to pestos, hummus, and sauces. Get creative—because the options are really endless.
Should you grind them or leave them whole?
And as for the great debate—to grind or not to grind your flaxseeds—Sedivy does recommend grinding them to get the most out of them. "Whole flaxseeds aren't as readily digestible and can pass through the digestive tract without being digested and missing all the nutritional benefits," she says. "It's better to grind your flaxseeds, since [they'll be] easier to digest, and therefore you're more likely to reap all the health benefits."
Here are some more of our favorite flaxseed-enhanced recipes to try.
Roasted Asparagus With Flax Seed-Walnut Crumble
This turmeric-spiced topping is packed with omega-3s from the flaxseeds and walnuts. Add it to more than just asparagus, too. Use it top other roasted or raw vegetables or mix into a salad for a healthy crunch.
Five basic ingredients—and a quick whir in the blender—and you'll be sipping on a nutrient-dense smoothie packed with berries, flaxseed, and low-fat yogurt.
Sunflower, hemp, and flax come together in a symphony of flavors ranging from nutty to spicy to buttery. Not only do the range of seeds blend right into the flavor of beloved pesto, but they're also more affordable than pricey pine nuts.