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A to Z of superfoods: Flax

A to Z of superfoods: Flax

Back in the 8th century, flaxseeds were a compulsory ‘superfood’ for the subjects of King Charlemagne. More than a thousand years later, flaxseed is back on the shelves and in the news as the new wonder food. What is it, and what can it do for you?


The versatile flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) has been grown by mankind for many centuries. Its name comes from the German word for ‘plait’, which was the original use for the fibres now used to make linen. The seeds can be used intact, or pressed to produce linseed oil.

Flaxseed (also known as linseed) grows as either brown or golden, with both types providing the same nutrition.


Flaxseeds are a good source of dietary fibre and vitamin B1. They also contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is one of the omega-3 fatty acids. Brown seeds contain slightly more ALA, but you only need a tablespoon of either type to get your entire ‘dose’ for the day. Flaxseed is the richest source of plant-based ALA.

The human body can convert ALA into other omega-3 fatty acids, similar to those from fish sources. Research continues to find if plant-based ALA has the same benefits as those from fish.


There are varying degrees of scientific evidence to back up the health benefits of flaxseed. The two main effects for which there is reasonable evidence are:

  • Laxative effect – the seeds are a good remedy for constipation due to their insoluble fibre content. It is important not to take too much and to drink plenty of water.
  • Reduction of blood cholesterol – the effect is strongest in those who already have high cholesterol. Flaxseed also seems to be most beneficial for older women who can be prone to high cholesterol levels.

The effect on cholesterol has been assessed by many studies, although more research is needed.

Other studies have shown that flaxseed may help mineral absorption. It is even possible that it could slow the progressions of some cancers, although this research is at a very early stage.

4)     HOW DO I USE IT?

Flaxseed needs to be ground to release its benefits, so there are many ways to use it. You can sprinkle it on breakfast cereal, mix it into soups or stews, and add it to scrambled eggs or to pasta sauces. Flaxseed also works when added to a cake mix, so there’s a great excuse for the occasional muffin.

Was Charlemagne right? Try some flaxseed and decide for yourself!

the author

Jessica Ambrose

Jessica is a fitness writer who loves long distance running, yoga, strength training and healthy eating.