Have you ever looked at a package of granola or a recipe online that calls for flax seed and thought, what is that? While chia seeds are a bit more popularly used in recipes like overnight oats or even pudding, flax seeds are the underdog ingredient that you should start paying attention to. Especially when you learn all the incredible ways this tiny seed can benefit your body!
From improving your digestion to decreasing your risk of disease (and even improving your cognitive function!), here are the many ways adding flax seeds to your recipes can benefit your long-term health—as well as a few warnings to consider when you start. Then, for even more healthy eating tips, here are the 5 Healthiest Seeds You Should Add to Your Diet.
If you’re looking to increase your fiber intake easily, adding flax seeds to your meal can be a great way to start. One tablespoon of whole flax seeds has almost 3 grams of fiber, which equates to 11% of your recommended daily value.
According to the American Heart Association, you should be getting an average of 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but Americans average a mere 15 grams. A diet low in fiber not only impacts your weight management efforts, but can also cause digestion issues and even increase your risk of developing chronic diseases.
Adding flax seeds to your breakfast is a great place to start. You can mix in flax seeds with your morning bowl of oatmeal, add it to your granola for a yogurt parfait, mix it into a pancake batter, or even blend them into your smoothie!
Specifically, flax seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of essential fatty acid that your body cannot produce. The only way to obtain it is through food—and flax seeds are full of them.
In general, consuming omega-3 fatty acids has been proven to reduce inflammation in the body, which can help prevent the development of chronic diseases. In particular, ALA has been linked to decreasing the risk of heart disease—like heart attack and stroke—as well as reducing high blood pressure.
Flax seeds are a rich source of ALA along with walnuts, fatty fish, and some plants.
As mentioned, ALA can help with decreasing your heart disease risk. According to a study review in Advances of Nutrition, there is strong evidence of ALA consumption and the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. This is due to the fact that ALA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), which has anti-inflammatory effects on the body and has been proven to decrease the risk of heart disease. They also have powerful antihypertensive, anticancer, antioxidant, antidepression, antiaging, and antiarthritis effects, according to Advances in Food and Nutrition Research.
Studies also show that flax seed consumption can help with lowering your blood cholesterol levels. A high level of LDL “bad” cholesterol in your system can cause a buildup in your arteries and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Flax seeds can also effectively lower your blood pressure, which is important for preventing heart attack and stroke.
Flax seeds are popularly known to be a natural laxative, which can help with the digestion process and constipation. A 12-week study published in Nutrition & Metabolism found flax seed (when added to baked goods) was able to decrease constipation symptoms, as well as glycemic and lipid levels, for those with type 2 diabetes.
Plus, flax seed consumption has also been shown to positively alter the gut microbiome during digestion by increasing the bacterial flora in your gut. It also reduces the presence of Proteobacteria and Porphyromonadaceae, which have been linked to alcoholic liver disease, according to Nutrients.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for keeping your body healthy for the long term, so incorporating flax seeds into your diet can be a key way to keeping your weight at a healthy number. In particular, the fiber in the flax seeds can help with feeling full for longer periods of time, according to Appetite.
Flax seed supplementation has also been linked to glucose control and insulin sensitivity, which have both been proven to have an impact on weight management.
This isn’t a side effect of eating flax seeds you’ll have to worry about too much, but it’s something to keep in mind if you suffer from an iron or zinc deficiency.
Flax seeds contain phytic acid, a type of antinutrient that can reduce the absorption of minerals like calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper, and iron. While this can seem like a negative side effect of consuming flax seeds, the effects of it are so minuscule that they are even less threatening than soybean and canola seeds, according to the Journal of Food Science and Technology.
While fiber is beneficial for overall digestive health, having too much fiber can cause digestive problems—especially if you aren’t used to eating a lot of fiber in one sitting. Eating too much fiber at once can cause bloating, gas, stomach pain, and sometimes even nausea.
If you’re looking to add more fiber to your diet, make sure to increase your number gently in order to avoid any digestion discomfort. Adding flax seeds to your baked goods or other common breakfast items is a great and tasty place to start.