Flaxseed Health Benefits, Types, and Uses

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It’s just a tiny seed, so how can something so small be so nutritious? Once you learn all the fantastic ways flaxseed benefits heart health, lower cholesterol levels, and even plays a part in regulating blood sugar, you’ll be using it every chance you get.

Two types of flaxseed, seeds in a wooden spoon and ground meal in a small white bowl.

Looks undoubtedly can be deceiving. This tiny little member of the seed family is a powerful superfood with enormous health benefits. As long as it’s ground up before you eat it, flaxseed is incredibly easy to incorporate into your daily regimen.

I’ll show you some great tips for getting more of this beneficial food into your meals and explain why everyone needs more flaxseed in their life.

What are flaxseeds?

Flax seeds, also known as linseeds, are the seeds of the flax plant. Every part of the flax plant has its use. Flax fibers are used to make linen and rope. Flax seeds are also used to make linseed oil in woodworking and carpentry.

As far back as 30,000 years ago, flax has been cultivated and grown as a steady crop in Egypt, Switzerland, Syria, and China. And as if that’s not enough, this wondrous tiny seed scores huge in the health department, too.

Taste profile

Like many seeds, flaxseeds have a slightly mild, nutty flavor, which is ideal for adding to sweet and savory foods. In case you’re wondering, children and picky eaters may overlook a little flaxseed meal when it’s added to their favorite foods in small amounts.

How it’s grown

Only the sturdiest and most tenacious plant could last thousands of years. Linum usitatissimum, Latin for “the most useful kind of flax,” is the variety cultivated for seeds. It grows in huge fields and likes full-sun, cooler climates with well-drained soil.

The seeds are harvested when the seed pods swell and turn brown after blooming. Canada supplies most brown flax seeds, while North America grows the golden variety.

Close up of flax seeds in a wooden spoon.

Types of flaxseeds

There are two basic types of flax seeds, brown and golden, both found in health food and specialty stores. Most people find that dark brown seeds have a more robust flavor than golden seeds. Both are good sources of alpha-linolenic acid, although the dark seeds are slightly higher in ALA than the golden variety.

What is flaxseed oil?

For a more concentrated dose of all the benefits flaxseed has to offer, many people rely on flaxseed oil, which is extracted oil from the seed. Since it’s an oil, it’s richer than ground flaxseed, but it’s a wonderful supplement on its own.

One teaspoon of flaxseed oil contains 40 calories. Not only can flaxseed oil be consumed, but it can also be used directly on the skin to balance out minor skin problems.

How to use flaxseeds

Since the body cannot fully digest whole flax seeds, they have to be ground up before you eat them. The best way to do this is in a small coffee grinder, spice mill, or even a mortar and pestle. Grind just what you need, though, because ground meal spoils quickly.

Close up of ground flaxseed in a bowl.

Buying and storing flaxseeds

Because flaxseed, flaxseed meal, and flaxseed oil are all light-sensitive and can degrade with prolonged exposure to light, make sure you look for opaque packaging in the products you buy and read the recommended “use by” dates on the labels carefully.

Thankfully, whole flax seeds can keep at room temperature for up to a year, but once they are ground, the flaxseed meal should be used as soon as possible. Flaxseed oil can also go rancid if not used efficiently. Try to purchase smaller amounts of oil and pre-ground meal, and use what you grind in a short amount of time.

How to cook with it

  • Thickener in recipes: Flax is a great way to naturally replace gluten-containing grains in recipes, especially baked ones; flax is usually quickly metabolized.
  • Egg substitute: That’s right! You can replace eggs in a recipe using finely ground flax seed. To replace one egg, use one tablespoon of flax seeds and three tablespoons of water. The seeds have a gelatinous quality that emulsifies much like an egg.

How to eat flax seeds

  • Smoothies: For a morning jumpstart, add a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed meal into a smoothie or shake. Your day just got a little healthier!
  • Baking: Ideal for cookies, muffins, pancakes, and quick breads: If you love to bake, coarsely ground flaxseeds can be added to any of these to boost texture and nutrition.
  • Salads: Drizzle some flaxseed oil over roasted vegetables, or add the chopped seeds as a last-minute topping. If you like, switch out olive oil and make a vinaigrette out of flaxseed oil.
  • Snacks: Flaxseed oil can be sprinkled on popcorn, or the ground meal can be mixed with herbs and spices and used to make crackers or baked chips.
  • Oatmeal: With flaxseed meal, oats just got a lot smarter. Shake overcooked oatmeal or pudding made of soaked chia seeds with a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar.
  • Granola and breakfast bars: If you make energy bars or granola, add ground flax meal to the recipe.

Hint: because flaxseed oil has such a low smoking point, (225) avoid cooking with it. However, it does make an excellent neutral oil for seasoning cast iron pans.

Nutrition

If you’re on a low-carb, Whole30, or Paleo diet, incorporating the healthy fats that seeds offer into your diet is especially important. Flax seeds and flaxseed oil are highly recommended for their low-carb properties and their high quantities of essential fatty acids, edging out even chia seeds, which have slightly lower omega-3 fatty acids.

Furthermore, those following strict plant-based diets will benefit from flaxseed oil, as it favorably compares to fish oil in terms of omega-3s.

Nutritional profile per serving

Eating two tablespoons of ground flax seed daily will provide about 20 percent to 25 percent of your fiber needs. (Most adults should aim to consume between 25–40 grams of fiber a day.)

  • 3.6 g of plant-based omega-3s
  • 75 calories
  • 2.6 grams of protein
  • 4 grams of carbohydrates (mostly fiber)
  • 6 grams of fat

Flaxseeds benefits

  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids, known as the “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Research indicates that flaxseed could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer, like prostate cancer and breast cancer. Besides, essential fatty acids keep skin, nails, and hair shiny and healthy.
  • Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities, promoting hormonal balance. Flaxseed is the highest source of lignans in the plant world; it contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods. The lignans in flaxseeds may help both menopausal and postmenopausal women alike.
  • Fiber. Flaxseed contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar, promote weight loss, and prevent constipation. Soluble fiber can also help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid. The alpha-linolenic acid and related chemicals in flaxseed oil seem to have anti-inflammatory properties. That is why flaxseed oil is helpful for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
  • Choline, contributes to brain health and function.

How to make a flax egg

Making flax egg in a small white bowl by stirring it with a spoon.

Flax Egg Recipe

How to make flax eggs as a vegan substitute for eggs in baked goods. 
4.87 from 67 votes
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time5 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Servings 1 egg
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds
  • 3 tablespoons water

Instructions 

  • Combine ground flaxseeds with water in a small bowl.
  • Allow the mixture to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before using. The consistency should be thick and viscous. 
  • Use immediately in the recipe.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 1 egg
Calories 37kcal (2%)Carbohydrates 2g (1%)Protein 1g (2%)Fat 2g (3%)Sodium 4mgPotassium 56mg (2%)Fiber 1g (4%)Calcium 18mg (2%)Iron 0.4mg (2%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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37 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Stumbit says

    Deep information on flax seed and its shelf life. I do not know that flaxseed oil must be used as soon as possible otherwise it may go rancid. Thank you so much for the valuable information.

  2. Eric Tom says

    Hi!
    I was looking up ways to add flaxseed to my diet and coincidentally came across a familiar face :). Hope you’re well, old friend!

  3. Siva says

    I have taken 2 table spoons of fluxseed powder in warm water every day. 1month later weight loss approx 5kgs and skin tone has improved.

  4. Opinion02122 says

    I wanted to use the metric measurements, since they are more accurate. But, when I did, it did not change the 3 tbsp of water. I wish it would change ALL the measurements. I also was confused by the comment about the golden flax, and the brown. “Canada supplies the majority of the brown flax seeds, while North America grows the golden variety.” Since Canada is part of North America, the statement makes little sense.

    Did you mean that the other countries in North America grown the golden flax? That Canada is the only country in North America that grows the brown flax? I hope to start incorporating flax into my diet, and my dog’s! Strangely, the first article I read about the benefits of flax was about its benefits to dogs. I really appreciated your comments about how best to use it in foods, AND for the use of flax seed oil to season the cast iron pan! I’m still trying to switch to cast iron! LOL.

    My mother, and other family members, never used cast iron! It seems so foreign to me. Again, thank you. And I hope that you understand that my comments were meant as constructive criticisms, not complaints. Wishing all good health. Together, we can stop Covid.

  5. Riya Agrawal says

    Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing this informative article. I use True Elements Flax Seeds which is healthy and is 100% natural. However, I read somewhere that flax seeds can be used to make cakes, is it true?

  6. Jose says

    Hello Jessica,
    By the means of grinding, but can a Vitamix provide a similar result–powder or would that be too fine?

  7. lou pilnick says

    hi Jessica just trying your smoothies what smoothie do you recommend to take before walk and workout regards lou pilnick

    • Jessica Gavin says

      It’s best not to use flaxseed oil with high heat, as the flavor can get bitter. I would instead add it as a finishing oil at the end of cooking for it’s nutty flavor in soups or sauteed vegetables. Or use a small amount in addition to another oil for dressings.

  8. Roy says

    I like to eat flax seeds whole- I chew
    Them throughly ( think I’m addicted to the the taste and the chewing process!) I usually eat no more than 3-4 tablespoons a day (1/2 teaspoon at the time)
    Do you see any problems with this?

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