Flaxseed is loaded with nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and beneficial plant compounds like lignans, all of which boast many potential health benefits. This tiny seed may improve digestive health, protect against certain types of cancer, stabilize blood sugar levels, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s also versatile, delicious, and easy to include in your diet.
With its mild, nutty flavor and crisp, crunchy consistency, flaxseed is a versatile ingredient that can enhance the taste and texture of almost any recipe. One way to use this seed is by mixing it into my morning smoothie. It also makes an excellent addition to pancake batter, homemade veggie burgers, and even overnight oats. What’s more, it’s loaded with nutrients and linked to numerous benefits.
Flaxseed is one of the world’s oldest crops. There are two types, brown and golden, both of which are equally nutritious . Just one serving provides a good amount of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, along with several important vitamins and minerals.
One tablespoon (7 grams) of ground flaxseed contains :
- Calories: 37
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fat: 3 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Protein: 1.3 grams
- Thiamine: 10% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Copper: 9% of the DV
- Manganese: 8% of the DV
- Magnesium: 7% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 4% of the DV
- Selenium: 3% of the DV
- Zinc: 3% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 2% of the DV
- Iron: 2% of the DV
- Folate: 2% of the DV
Flaxseed is particularly high in thiamine, a B vitamin that plays a key role in energy metabolism as well as cell function. It’s also a great source of copper, which is involved in brain development, immune health, and iron metabolism .
Flaxseed is an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that’s important for heart health and found primarily in plant foods.
ALA is one of the two essential fatty acids that you must obtain from the food you eat since your body doesn’t produce them.
Animal studies suggest that the ALA in flaxseed may help reduce inflammation and prevent cholesterol from being deposited in your heart’s blood vessels .
A recent study in 8,866 people tied increased ALA intake to decreased cholesterol levels and a lower risk of ischemic heart disease — which is related to narrowed arteries — and type 2 diabetes.
Numerous studies have also linked ALA to a lower risk of stroke. What’s more, one large review of 34 studies even associated increased ALA intake with a decreased risk of dying from heart disease.
Flaxseed is rich in lignans, which are plant compounds that have been studied for their potent cancer-fighting properties. Interestingly, this seed boasts 75–800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
Some studies associate flaxseed intake with a lower risk of breast cancer, particularly for postmenopausal women .
Animal and test-tube studies also show flaxseed to protect against colorectal, skin, blood, and lung cancer .
Keep in mind that more research is needed in humans.
Flaxseed contains nutrients called lignans that may help decrease cancer growth. Some studies link this food to a lower risk of several types of cancer, but more research is needed.
Just 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of ground flaxseed packs 2 grams of fiber, which is around 5% and 8% of the daily recommended intake for men and women, respectively .
What’s more, flaxseed contains two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble — which get fermented by the bacteria in your intestines to support gut health and improve bowel regularity.
While soluble fiber absorbs water in your intestines and slows down digestion, which may help regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol, insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, which may prevent constipation and promote regular bowel movements
Flaxseed may also help lower cholesterol levels. According to a 1-month study in people with peripheral artery disease, eating 4 tablespoons (30 grams) of milled flaxseed per day decreased levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol by 15% .
A 12-week study in 112 people with high blood pressure had similar findings, reporting that 4 tablespoons (30 grams) of flaxseed per day led to significant reductions in body mass index (BMI), total cholesterol, and blood pressure .
These effects may be due to the fiber in flaxseed, which binds to bile salts before being excreted by your body. To replenish these bile salts, cholesterol is pulled from your blood into your liver, resulting in lower levels .
Flaxseed is renowned for its ability to decrease blood pressure levels . A review of 15 studies found that supplementing with flaxseed products, including flaxseed powder, may significantly lower levels of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure — the top and bottom numbers on a reading, respectively . This seed may be especially effective for those with high blood pressure levels. In fact, a small, 12-week study showed that taking 4 tablespoons (30 grams) of flaxseed per day reduced blood pressure in those with high levels . Furthermore, according to a large review of 11 studies, taking flaxseed daily for more than 3 months may lower blood pressure levels by 2 mmHg . While that might seem insignificant, some research suggests that a reduction of 2 mmHg decreases the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease by 14% and 6%, respectively .
Flaxseed may stabilize blood sugar levels and promote blood sugar control.
According to a review of 25 studies, whole flaxseed may decrease blood sugar and prevent insulin resistance, a condition that impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels effectively . This blood-sugar-lowering effect may be due to this seed’s soluble fiber content. Research shows that soluble fiber slows the absorption of sugar in the blood, which may reduce blood sugar levels . As such, flaxseed may be particularly helpful if you have type 2 diabetes. Keep in mind that the benefits of flaxseed for blood sugar control apply mostly to whole flaxseed rather than flaxseed oil. This is because flaxseed oil lacks fiber.
Several studies suggest that flaxseed may aid weight management. One older study found that a drink with flax fiber tablets containing 2.5 grams of soluble fiber reduced feelings of hunger and overall appetite. This is likely because soluble fiber slows digestion and increases feelings of fullness, which may be especially useful if you’re trying to lose weight. In fact, a large review of 45 studies found that supplementing with flaxseed resulted in significant reductions in body weight, BMI, and belly fat .
Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil are easy to use and can be added to a variety of recipes. Here are a few simple ways to increase your intake:
- Add flaxseed powder to water or sprinkle it into your smoothies.
- Drizzle flaxseed oil on fresh salads in place of salad dressing.
- Sprinkle ground flaxseed over hot or cold cereal for extra fiber and flavor.
- Mix flaxseed into your favorite yogurt.
- Give baked goods a healthy twist by mixing flaxseed into cookies, muffins, or breads.
- Combine flaxseed with a bit of water for a simple egg substitute.
- Incorporate flaxseed into meat or veggie patties next time you fire up the grill.
Flaxseed is versatile and easy to add to yogurt, salad, smoothies, baked goods, and numerous other foods.
How much do you need?
Many of the health benefits noted in the studies above were observed with just 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of ground flaxseed per day.
However, it’s best to limit your intake to around 4–5 tablespoons (28–35 grams) of flaxseed per day — so you don’t get too much fiber — and enjoy as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Although flaxseed is associated with many health benefits, there are a few downsides to consider.
For starters, keep in mind that ground flaxseed is high in fiber, with 2 grams packed into each tablespoon (7 grams). While fiber is beneficial, increasing your intake very quickly can lead to digestive issues, including gas and bloating
Though rare, allergic reactions to flaxseed and flaxseed oil have also been reported.
Additionally, flaxseed may interact with several medications, including blood thinners and antiplatelet medications .
Because certain flaxseed compounds may mimic the effects of estrogen, those on hormone therapy or with hormone-sensitive cancers should talk with their doctor before adding it to their diet. You’re also advised to exercise caution if you’re pregnant or nursing .
Flaxseed is high in fiber and may cause digestive issues if eaten in high amounts. In rare instances, it may also produce an allergic reaction and may interact with certain medications.