Flaxseeds and the oils that come from them are edible and offer a host of health-boosting properties. Flax is one of the original health foods; it was valued for its healing properties during the Roman Empire. It is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fats, which are essential for human health and may be helpful in fighting conditions such as heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and a variety of other health problems.
Flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids and are packed with protein, fiber, carotene, zinc and iron and vitamins B-1, B-2, C and E. This makes eating the whole seed optimal as opposed to simply consuming the extracted oil. The seeds have a slightly nutty taste, and you can eat them raw. Sprinkle raw flaxseeds over salads and oatmeal or bake them into breads and muffins. Grind the seeds to a fine powder and combine them with flour to increase the fiber and nutrient content.
Flaxseeds, when cold pressed, produce flax oil, which can be used in many of the same ways as flaxseeds. The oil provides more alpha-linolenic acid per weight than whole or milled flaxseeds and is an excellent source of omega- 3 essential fatty acids. According to the Institute of Medicine, an acceptable level of ALA equals about 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women. This is the equivalent of two to three 1000-milligram supplements or 1/2 teaspoon of flax oil. Although flax oil has a high level of omega-3 acids, it does not contain the fiber, lignans and protein content found in the rest of the seed. Flax oil can also spoil easily if not stored properly. It must be kept refrigerated with minimum exposure to heat, light or air.
Flaxseeds may help lower cholesterol levels, protect against heart disease and control high blood pressure. The omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseeds may also improve levels of inflammation, promote healthy hair and nails and supply the necessary fats used in brain building. Flaxseeds are rich in soluble fiber and mucilage, which expand as they contact water. This provides bulk to stool, which may lower the risk of constipation. The seeds are also a source of the phytonutrient lignin, which helps to flush excess estrogen out of the body, reducing the incidence of estrogen-linked cancers such as breast cancer. The positive effects of flax include support of cardiovascular, colon and immune health, and it can help to burn excess, unhealthy fats from your body.
Although flaxseeds are generally considered a healthy food option, they may interfere with the effects of some prescription and nonprescription medications. People with a bowel obstruction or an inflamed bowel should not take flaxseed, as it is high in fiber and could make the condition worse. Drink plenty of water or reduce the dosage of flax if you notice increased symptoms of constipation. You should always consult with your health care provider before making significant changes to your diet.
Kaytee Rae Weaver has a Bachelor of Science in business management with additional studies in health and wellness from San Francisco State University. She brings years of healthy living experience through exercise and nutrition to her writing and continues to grow her knowledge through research and life experiences.