Flaxseed comes from the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum L. Known as flaxseed in North America, it's called linseed in other parts of the world, although North Americans also refer to it as linseed when it is used for industrial purposes. Available in most markets and health food stores, flaxseed may provide a variety of important health benefits if you consume it regularly. To include it in your diet, add flaxseed to baked goods, cereal, smoothies, yogurt and stews.
A Vegetarian Source of Omega-3 Fats
Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed supplies 1.6 grams of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Consuming omega-3 fats from flaxseed can be particularly beneficial for those who avoid eating fish and shellfish, which are sources of omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. Other plant-based sources of alpha-linolenic acid are walnuts and canola oil.
Reduce Cancer Risk
Consuming flaxseed can help reduce the risk of certain cancers, such as breast and colon. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that the potential benefits may be due to the activity of lignans, which are plant nutrients that are found in flaxseed but not flax oil. Flaxseed is the most concentrated dietary source of lignans, with 85 milligrams per ounce. By comparison, sesame seeds provide 11.2 milligrams per ounce, and broccoli, kale and strawberries each provide less than 1 milligram of lignans per 1/2 cup.
Lower Blood Pressure
Flaxseed can help lower high blood pressure, according to a study published in 2013 in the journal “Hypertension.” Alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 fatty acid in flaxseed, and lignans probably contribute to this effect. High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases your risk for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. A low-sodium diet can help prevent hypertension, and ground flaxseed is low in sodium. You can eat it with other low-sodium foods, such as oatmeal and eggs.
Promote Gastrointestinal Health
Some people consume flaxseed to help prevent or treat constipation, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Dietary fiber and mucilage in flaxseed increase stool bulk and soften stools so that they are easier to pass. Lignans in flaxseed increase stool frequency. To reduce discomfort, such as bloating or cramping, drink plenty of water when you take flaxseed, or increase fiber consumption to prevent or reduce constipation.
Help Control Body Weight
People who eat flaxseed regularly tend to have lower body weight, according to a study published in the journal “Nutricion Hospitalia” in 2012. Its dietary fiber and protein are filling nutrients and can help suppress hunger, so you end up eating less. Flaxseed is relatively high in calories, with 37 calories per tablespoon of ground seed, so consume it in moderation to avoid excessive calorie consumption and the possibility of unintentional weight gain. To help control your weight, consume flaxseed with low-calorie foods, such as soups and yogurt.