Benefits of Flax

All the health benefits of flax

A Better Diet with Flax

Canadian flax is a high quality food. Flax contains the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); fibre; and lignans (see table below). Flax also contains many antioxidants and is a good source of protein. Health experts recommend that we consume more of these nutrients for better health and to reduce disease.

Form of flax Weight (g) Common measure Energy (kcal) Total fat (g) ALA (g) Protein (g) Total CHO (g) Total dietary fibre (g)
Proximate analysis 100 450 41.0 23.0 20.0 29.0 28.0
Whole seed 180 1 cup 810 74.0 41.0 36.0 52.0 50.0
11 1 tbsp 50 4.5 2.5 2.2 3.0 3.0
4 1tsp 18 1.6 0.9 0.8 1.2 1.1
Ground seed 130 1 cup 585 53.0 30.0 26.0 38.0 36.0
8 1 tbsp 36 3.3 1.8 1.6 2.3 2.2
2.7 1 tsp 12 1.1 0.6 0.5 0.8 0.8
Flax Oil 100 884 100.0 57.0
14 1 tbsp 124 14.0 8.0
5 1 tsp 44 5.0 2.8
Source: Morris D. Flax: A health and nutrition primer. Winnipeg: Flax Council of Canada; 2003. p 11 

Flaxseed is a Rich Source of “Healthy Fats”

Although about 41 per cent of flax is oil, very little of that is saturated. Saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease. More than 70 per cent of the fat in flax is of the healthful polyunsaturated (PUFA) type. In fact, a unique feature of flax is the high ratio of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid) to linoleic (LA, omega-6 fatty acids) PUFAs.

Scientists consider these two PUFAs as essential because the body cannot manufacture them from any other substances. Essential fatty acids are “essential to life” and play a role in critical physiological functions such as cell growth and division, platelet aggregation (blood clotting), inflammation, hemorrhage, vasoconstriction (constriction of the blood vessels) and vasodilation (blood vessel widening), blood pressure, and immune function.

While other plant seeds — corn, sunflower, peanuts — contain mostly omega-6 PUFA, flax is the only one that contains so much of the essential omega 3 PUFA. The high levels of ALA (53 to 57% of total fats) is part of the reason why flax has so many unique health benefits.

Ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s PUFA— Studies of hunter-gatherer populations show their diets contained roughly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega -3 PUFA. Researchers and nutrition experts recommend people replace some dietary omega-6 PUFA (consumption of which has grown significantly in the last 50 years) with omega-3 PUFA such as ALA found in flax. The omega-3 PUFA correct the imbalances of omega-6 PUFA found in modern diets that can lead to health problems. Nutritionists caution that the amount of omega-3 PUFA eaten in North America no longer meets our bodies’ needs. You can balance your consumption of fatty acids by adding flax to your diet.

Flaxseed as an excellent source of dietary fibre

What makes flax stand out above other whole grains is its mix of fibre. Rather than containing large amounts of one type of fibre, flax seeds contain generous quantities of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Flax adds all the fibre of whole grains to foods: 1 Tbsp of milled flax contains as much total dietary fibre as 1 slice of whole wheat bread or 1/4 cup of cooked oat bran.

Soluble fibre – Most of the soluble fibre in flax seeds is mucilage, a thick, sticky substance that attracts water during digestion. The mucilage becomes gel-like and can trap glucose (sugar) and fats. Thus, flax can help to moderate blood glucose and is alos an effective cholesterol-lowering agent.

Insoluble fibre – Studies show that the insoluble fibre in flax is helpful for regulating bowel movements and preventing constipation. Because flax’s insoluble fibre components have the capacity to hold water, they help soften the stool and allow it to move through the colon more quickly.

Flaxseed as an excellent source of lignans

Flax seed is one of the richest plant sources of lignans, providing up to 800 times more than most other foods. Lignans are “phytoestrogens”, hormone-like compounds that have been shown to help protect against certain kinds of cancer, particularly cancers of the breast, prostate and colon, by blocking tumour formation. When bacteria in the digestive tract act on plant lignans these compounds are converted into potent hormone-like substances.

Flax seed lignans also exhibit strong antioxidant properties which can protect the body from the adverse effects of oxidative stress, a common underlying feature in many chronic degenerative diseases.

Flaxseed as an excellent source of protein

The protein found in flaxseed is very similar to that of soybean protein, which is considered one of the most nutritious plant proteins. This is due to the type of amino acids present, the building blocks of protein. Flaxseed contains numerous “essential amino acids”, which the body cannot produce and therefore must obtain from the diet. Flaxseed protein has significance to vegetarians relying on plant sources to meet their daily protein requirements.

Health Benefits of Flax

Current research indicates that eating flax provides many health benefits.

A lower risk for heart disease. Nutritionists advise eating less saturated fat and trans fats, and more PUFA  – which flax provides. Studies show a diet high in ALA reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and by preventing the buildup of harmful deposits in arteries. In other studies, in which large groups of people were studied to find disease trends, increasing the ALA content of the diet corresponded to a decrease in risk of stroke, inflammation and heart disease.

Prevention of some forms of cancer. The link between diet and cancer is well-known. Flax contains dietary fibre and omega-3 fat in the form of ALA, which can reduce the risk of cancer. Furthermore, studies showed the ALA in flax slowed the inflammation responsible for the growth of cancer cells. Another study on women newly diagnosed with breast cancer showed a slowing of tumour growth with the addition of flax to their diet.

Treatment of immune disorders. The lignans and ALA in flax help prevent inflammation that affects the body’s immune system. Flax in the diet may be useful in the treatment of such immune disorders as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and lupus.

Diabetes. Studies show flax lowers blood glucose in healthy, young adults. The effect of flax in the diets of people with Type 2 diabetes is currently being investigated.

Relief from constipation. Studies in older adults show eating flax helps increase the frequency of bowel movements.