Flax seed, also referred to as linseed, comes from the annual herbal plant Linum usitatissimum. It is used for a wide variety of purposes including food and medicine and was historically valued for its fiber content used to make clothes and fishnets. Flax seeds today are known to be a rich source of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid important for optimal health. ALA helps to reduce inflammation and may be helpful for heart disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease as well as other issues. Essential fatty acids are necessary for optimal health, as your body cannot make these on its own and they must be consumed from dietary sources.
Ground Flax Seed
Consuming ground flax seed is an excellent way to make sure you get the full range of benefits flax seeds have to offer. According to the Mayo Clinic, most nutrition experts recommend ground flax seed, as they are more easily digested; whole flax seeds can too easily pass through your intestines undigested. Ground flax seeds can be found at most grocery and health food stores. You can also purchase raw flax seeds whole and grind them yourself in a coffee grinder to create your own ground flax. Sprinkling over hot or cold cereal, adding to your yogurt or baking into muffins and breads are all great ways to add the seeds to your diet.
Flax seed oil is derived from flax seeds and is available in liquid and capsule form. Although it contains the same ALA benefits of flax seed, it does not contain the fiber or lignan components known to have laxative and anti-cancer effects. The oil has a slight nutty flavor, and it works well drizzled over salads or to replace butter on baked goods. You should always keep liquid flax oil refrigerated in a tightly sealed bottle as it easily breaks down chemically if exposed to light, heat or air. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends consuming 1 to 2 tablespoons daily or 1 to 2 capsules to obtain the full range of benefits it has to offer.
Flax seeds in all forms contain a wide array of benefits. The fiber mucilage found in whole and ground flax seeds expands when it contacts water, adding bulk to stool and acts as a laxative for those suffering from constipation. Both forms can help to reduce total cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Flax oil may also reduce dry eyes and improve symptoms of ADHD. While more research is needed in many areas, adding any form of flax seeds to your diet may prove to be beneficial.
While flax seeds and flax seed oil supplements are generally well tolerated by individuals without many side effects, you should always consult with your health care provider before making considerable changes to your current diet. Flax seeds may slow the absorption of other oral medications or nutrients due to their fiber contents, so it may be beneficial to take them separately from one another. The use of flax seed or flax seed oil during pregnancy and breastfeeding is not recommended, as it may have hormonal effects and could be harmful.
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