Dear Coach: I notice that there are flax seeds in many store products, and many recipes I see also call for flax seed. Why are flax seeds so beneficial? Wendy
Dear Wendy, You are an observant shopper! Flax seeds are found in all types of foods today, including cereals, crackers, breads, frozen waffles and oatmeal. Flax seeds are very beneficial for a number of reasons, one of the biggest being LIGNANS.
Cancer Fighting Lignans
Lignans are phytonutrients (plant compounds) which studies have shown reduce the risk of prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers. An article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that high intake of lignans could reduce the risk of breast cancer by as much as 30%, and other studies reveal similar results.
Flax seeds by weight are the most concentrated source of lignans, up to 800x more than any other food. It’s important to note that flax seed oil is not recommended, as the lignans are concentrated in the seed, not the fat/oil. Even flax seed oils that are listed as “high lignans” do not contain as much lignans as the seeds.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Minerals
Omega-3 fatty acids are another big benefit of flax seeds. The seeds contain a very concentrated amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which the body converts to Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning it must be obtained and converted through food. A daily dose of flax seed is an excellent way to assure you’re meeting this essential need; it’s much better to consume any whole food, such as flax seeds, than taking an Omega-3 supplement which is an isolated nutrient of the whole food.
Flax seeds are also an excellent source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, copper, calcium, protein, potassium, magnesium, folate and even boron. The two basic varieties of flax seed are brown and yellow (or golden), which have similar nutritional characteristics and equal numbers of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Fiber is another benefit of flax seeds. Flax seeds contain both soluble fiber (dissolves in water) and insoluble fiber (does not dissolve in water). High fiber foods help relieve constipation, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and protect against many diseases, including breast and prostate cancer; they also lower estrogen levels, reduce the recurrence of colon polyps, and can reduce the risk for infection that results from taking antibiotics, steroids, and other drugs that destroy beneficial bacteria.
Keep in Mind:
- Flax oil is not a substitute for flax seeds. The seeds are little nutrition powerhouses and we lose much of the nutrition when we just press out the oil.
- For best nutrition, flax seeds should be ground at the time of use (a coffee grinder will work). The seed coats on flax seeds are so hard that your body is unable to break them down in the GI tract. Therefore, flax seeds consumed whole will pass through the body and be eliminated in their original form. Pre-ground flax seed can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.
- One tablespoon of ground flax per day is all that’s needed by almost everyone. Add them to your breakfast oatmeal, cereal or smoothie.
- Flax seeds make a great egg replacer in recipes. To replace one egg, blend (or whisk) 1 TBS ground flax seeds with 3 TBS water until frothy.
- Flax should be consumed as part of a low-fat, whole food, plant-based diet. Although flax seeds are beneficial, the overall structure of the diet is responsible for the beneficial effect, not just one food. In other words, you are unlikely to experience big benefits from adding one food to your diet, but rather from changing the entirety of what you eat.
- In order to prevent oxidation, flax seeds should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge (or freezer) until ready to grind before use. Pre-ground seeds should also be stored airtight. Examples of airtight containers include plastic containers with sealable lids, glass jars with lids that can be sealed closed, and plastic freezer bags with sealable openings.
Flax Seed vs Chia Seed
Chia seeds are another great source of fiber, antioxidants, and ALA which converts into Omega-3 fatty acids; however, flax seeds provide better cancer protection. And in Dr. Michael Greger’s opinion, the cancer-fighting lignans make flax seeds the better choice.
Many experts in the plant-based world recommend adding ground flax seed to your daily routine, while others say it’s not a requirement since we can get all the nutrients we need through plants in general. Whether or not you choose to add ground flax (or any seeds) to your regimen, please remember that it’s the TOTALITY of your diet that matters the most, way more than adding one superfood to your routine.
For more information on which foods to eat and which to avoid, check out my free webinar here.
If you need help getting started with plant-based eating, or if you need some help getting over the humps, I’d love to help you. Coaching services are offered with or without my 6-week Transition Course. Let’s have a complimentary chat to see if we’re a good fit.
If you have a question for the coach, please visit www.cydnotter.com to contact me or sign up for our newsletter and class schedule. (Sources: Nutritionfacts.org; Touland, et al, “Dietary Lignan Intake and “Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk by Estrogen and “Progesterone Receptor Status,” Mar 21, 2007;vol.99:6:475-486)