Tiny and plain, flaxseed is packed with essential nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals. With its high levels of alpha-linolenic and omega-3 fatty acids, lignans and dietary fiber, this earthy little seed promotes normal cholesterol levels, protects cardiovascular health and helps prevent constipation.
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A 2-tablespoon serving of ground flaxseed has about 75 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These calories consist of 2.6 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates -- almost all of which is fiber -- and 6 grams of fat. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, which include heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, account for roughly two-thirds of the fat in flaxseed.
Like plant-based oils, nuts and other seeds, the high fat content in flaxseed makes it spoil rapidly. Flaxseed that smells like oil paint is rancid, meaning that its oils have begun to oxidize. This process can transform beneficial unsaturated fats into toxic -- and possibly carcinogenic compounds. Whole flaxseed lasts far longer than the ground variety, and you should refrigerate both in air-tight containers.
To maximize health benefits, use a coffee grinder or food processor to grind whole, fresh flaxseed, as you need it. Sprinkle it over pasta, fold it into yogurt or stir it into oatmeal.