Your skin and heart will thank you when you add ground flaxseed to your favorite dishes or use flaxseed oil to dress your favorite salads. They’re both rich sources of essential fatty acids that keep your skin hydrated and protect your heart from bad fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed oil’s only claim to fame, but the seeds offer more, including fiber and phytoestrogens that may prevent breast cancer.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids fight against system-wide inflammation and protect your heart by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. These essential fatty acids also keep your skin healthy by forming a water-proof barrier that holds in moisture. Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are both rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but the oil has 10 times more and is often used in supplements. One tablespoon of ground flaxseeds has 1.6 grams of omega-3s, or 145 percent of women's recommended daily intake. The same portion of flaxseed oil has 6.9 grams of omega-3s, which is more than 600 percent of your daily value.
You won’t get it from flaxseed oil, but flaxseeds are packed with fiber. One tablespoon of whole flaxseeds has 2.8 grams of fiber. Even when ground, a tablespoon of flaxseed still has 2 grams. Women should consume 25 grams of fiber in their daily diet. Flaxseeds are often used to treat constipation, but be aware that gas or diarrhea could be unwelcome side effects if you add too much flaxseed to your diet too quickly. Start with small amounts and drink plenty of water to avoid problems. The soluble fiber in flaxseeds lowers cholesterol and prevents unhealthy spikes in blood sugar by slowing down the digestion of sugar.
Flaxseeds are nature's best source of a group of phytoestrogens called lignans, substances that mimic the effect of your natural estrogen. Research suggests they may lower cholesterol and prevent estrogen-related cancers, such as breast cancer. A study published in the January 2012 issue of the “Journal of Nutrition” reported that women who ate more lignans had a lower risk of breast cancer. It's hard to predict the effect of phytoestrogens without talking to your health-care provider. If your natural estrogen levels are low, lignans may increase your total estrogen. But if you already have plenty of estrogen, they may lower the total amount. Women who have recovered from, or who currently have estrogen-related cancer, should not eat flaxseeds until they consult their physicians.
Flaxseeds contain vitamins and minerals you won’t get from flaxseed oil. Whole flaxseeds are hard to digest, and it's best to use ground flaxseeds so your body can absorb the nutrients. One tablespoon of ground seeds has 27 milligrams of magnesium, or 8 percent of your recommended daily intake. The same portion also supplies 4 percent of women’s daily value of zinc, and 2 percent of calcium, iron and vitamin B-6. These percentages may not sound significant until you consider that the nutrients come from a 1-tablespoon serving. One tablespoon of flaxseed oil only has 1 percent of the daily value of vitamin K.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Seeds, Flaxseed
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Oil, Flaxseed, Cold Pressed
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids and the Skin
- Tufts University: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids: Intake Recommendations
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Lignans
- University of New Hampshire: The Scoop on Flaxseed
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Flaxseed
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.