Don’t be fooled by the flaxseed’s humble appearance: its size and everyday color don’t do justice to the tremendous benefits this little seed has for the human body. Even its Latin name will tell you: Linum Usitatissimum, means ‘very useful’1.
Flaxseed is also often called linseed. Although these two words are both used for the same little seed, the latter is generally employed when describing the industry and feed use, whereas the former is used to describe it when it is consumed as human food.
Flaxseed has been cultivated for thousands of years. In the 1990s, it was used mostly by the clothing industry. Today, it’s amazing health benefits are helping it make a comeback as a fundamental part of any type of healthy diet. In fact, flaxseeds have so many health benefits, that there are myths that Charlemagne passed laws making it mandatory for his subjects to eat it.
1. Cardiovascular health
One of the main health benefits of flaxseed is its richness in omega 3 fatty acid, ALA (alpha linoleic acid)2. ALA has a large range of benefits for your body, including helping to prevent cardiovascular diseases3. A quarter of deaths in the United States every year are due to heart disease4 ALA benefits cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure. So if you want to improve your heart health in a heartbeat, don’t hesitate to consume more flaxseed!
2. Skin Health
Ayurvedic medicine is one the most ancient yet still widely practiced medicines in countries such as India or Sri Lanka, and traditional Chinese medicine. In Ayurvedic medicine, flaxseeds have long been used to improve skin health, by balancing skin ph and improving the moisture holding capacity of the skin, for example. Although beauty may only be skin deep, healthy skin can only make you ever more beautiful, and flaxseed can help you considerably with that!
3. Kidney Health
In the Middle Ages, flaxseed was used to treat kidney disorders. Today, studies show that flaxseeds can indeed help cure kidney diseases5. Flaxseed improves kidney functions by decreasing the thickness of blood, reducing cholesterol levels and swelling. It is very important that your kidneys function well in order to be healthy. The kidneys filter your blood, which passes through them several times a day. They remove waste, maintain the right level of electrolytes and control your body’s fluid balance.
4. Cancer Prevention
Finally, like many of the foods and spices in this Healthy Ingredient Highlight series, flaxseed has cancer preventative properties. Flaxseed is especially powerful when it comes to breast cancer prevention. One study revealed that flaxseed reduces tumor growth6. High levels of insulin increase the risk of cell proliferation, and favor the survival of cells with DNA damage, which has great chances of leading to cancer. Flaxseed decreases insulin levels in the blood, helping your body prevent cancer.
It is best to consume ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil to benefit from its healthy properties. The whole seeds tend to go right through your body without getting a chance to release all the health benefits they have inside. Using flaxseed in bread, cake, cookie and pancake recipes (as we do!) is a great way to work it into your diet. If you mix ground flaxseed and water, you will get a slightly viscous result, which can replace eggs or generally bind ingredients together nicely. So don’t hesitate to look out for it in the ingredient list of the foods you buy, or enjoy experimenting with it in your baking and cooking. It’ll make your food tasty and your body happy!
Lisa Darmet is a freelance writer, whose passions include not only eating but also food and cooking and their connections to health, culture and society. She is a graduate of Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, USA & a world traveler.