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:
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.
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 cholesterol-lowering claim of flax is interesting. Maybe I'll try it on my breakfast now.
Like Mike I prefer my flax ground in so it basically has no impact on the flavour or texture but you still get all the benefits. I haven't tried baking with it but I'm definitely thinking of giving Sasha's flapjacks a go.
Sprinkle on salads - along with sunflower seeds and pine nuts.
I add them to flapjacks to make them healthier, alongside pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
You can buy fairly cheap flaxseeds from health food waitrose, that's where I get mine.
I use 2 tablespoonfuls of ground flaxseed in a smoothie most mornings. You can't really taste it but you know it's doing you lots of good.