Flaxseed is an ancient food, prized for its healing properties as far back as 650 B.C. Today, most people eat flaxseed because it is a source of healthy fats, fiber and other disease-fighting nutrients. Flaxseed can be eaten whole or ground, but if you eat the whole seeds, be sure to chew them carefully to break the seed coat and release the nutrients.
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Flaxseed is low in saturated fat and high in cholesterol-lowering unsaturated fat. It's also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are recommended as part of a heart-healthy diet. An article published in "Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism" in October 2009 suggests that eating flaxseed daily may provide cardiovascular benefits by reducing cholesterol levels and inflammation. The American Heart Association also reports that the daily consumption of flaxseed may help reduce blood pressure.
Two tablespoons of flaxseed provide about 4 grams of fiber, which is important for keeping your gastrointestinal system healthy. Much of the fiber in flax is soluble fiber, which attracts water and forms a gel. Soluble fiber slows down the emptying of your stomach, making you feel full longer, and it helps to stabilize your blood sugar. According to MedlinePlus, flaxseed might be also helpful for reducing your appetite and helping you to eat less. In addition, it can help lower hemoglobin A1c, which is a measure of the three-month glucose average in diabetics.
Flaxseed and Cancer Prevention
Flaxseed also contains compounds called lignans, which are phytoestrogens, or plant substances that act like estrogen. Phytoestrogens have been studied for their potential role in reducing some cancers, especially breast, colon and prostate cancer. At this time, results are conflicting, and research on the role of lignans and cancer prevention isn’t clear.
How and How Much
To get the cardiovascular and fiber benefits of flaxseed, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends that you eat about 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed two to three times each day. It's best if you grind the seeds just before you eat them, and drink lots of water. In addition, make sure that you eat the ground flaxseed within 24 hours; after that, it starts to lose its active compounds.
Flaxseeds can add a little crunch when sprinkled on cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. Or try sprinkling them on roasted vegetables. Many people also like to add them to the batter or dough for baked goods, such as breads and muffins. One tablespoon of flaxseed mixed with 2 to 3 tablespoons of hot water will form a thick gel, which you can use as an egg replacement in baking.