What are the benefits of flax seed? I have high cholesterol and someone suggested flax seed. And what is best the oil or the flax seeds themselves?

What is flaxseed? Flax is an oilseed just like sunflower and canola are oilseeds. There are three main ways that flaxseeds seem to offer health benefits. These include the fat content of flaxseeds, the lignan content of flax, and the fiber content of flaxseeds.

Flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (specifically alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). This type of fat is similar to the healthy fat found in fatty fish such as salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat, which are healthier than saturated fats.

Saturated fat is the type of fat found in animal products, like red meat and full fat dairy (cheese and whole milk). A diet that is too high in saturated fat can increase the risk of cancer and heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids on the other hand, like the fat in flaxseeds, appear to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, including breast and prostate cancer. Flaxseeds are the only plant foods that contain a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

Flaxseeds are also an excellent source of fiber. It is recommended that people consume approximately 25-35 grams of dietary fiber a day. The average person only consumes around 12 grams. Just two tablespoons of flaxseeds contain approximately five grams of fiber. This is important because research now suggests that getting fiber from food sources is key in reducing risk of many cancers.
In addition, flaxseeds are one of the richest sources of plant nutrients called lignans. Research shows that regularly eating some foods that contain lignans may reduce several types of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Recent studies suggest that flaxseed can help to lower total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

It is important to note that consuming the recommended amount of flaxseed (1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed per day) is likely to give us the best health benefit. Because whole flaxseeds contain fiber, some protein, vitamins/minerals, and lignins, they are considered more nutritious than the flaxseed oil.

Tips for Using and Storing Flaxseeds

You can buy whole flaxseeds in the bulk food section of most supermarkets. You can also buy pre-packaged flax meal at most grocery stores too. Specialty health food stores (Harvest Health, etc) also provide flaxseed.

Whole flaxseeds do not need to be refrigerated. Ground flaxseed must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Pre packaged flax meal (ground flax seeds) can be stored at room temperature until opened, but must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer once opened.

To save money, buy whole flaxseeds and grind them yourself. The best way to grind flaxseeds is with a coffee bean grinder. They cost about $15. Buy flaxseeds in bulk. Fill up the grinder and grind until they are crushed into a coarse-grained powder. Transfer the ground seeds into a medium storage container.

Store the ground flaxseeds in the freezer. Each morning, scoop a spoonful or two onto cereal or into a smoothie or yogurt. Place the seeds back into the freezer.

If you have digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, etc do not eat whole flax seeds. If you do have one of these conditions, very finely ground flaxseeds may be introduced slowly, one teaspoon at a time, to assess tolerance.

Add ground flaxseeds into a fruit smoothie, oatmeal, yogurt, etc.

Sprinkle ground flaxseeds on salads, cereal, and on top of frozen yogurt or other desserts.

Sprinkle ground flaxseeds into soups or stews or try using flaxseeds when you make baked goods.

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