10 Reasons to Eat Flax Seed Every Day

Photo of Flax Flowers

Flax, Linum usitatissimum, originated somewhere east of the Mediterranean and west of India and has been used to make linen since the days of ancient Egypt. The long, strong and flexible fibers of the plant’s stem create soft and durable fabric that only becomes softer and more lustrous with age.

Eating flax seed for health is a relatively new idea in this country. Scandinavian people have known its benefits for years, but the tiny, nutrient rich seeds didn’t become popular in this country until the late 1990s. Until then, most of us thought flax was for making linseed oil and linen.

Flax seed is a superfood, so packed with nutrients and fiber that it’s worth including in the diet every day. I can’t imagine oatmeal without it and it’s the perfect addition to green and fruit smoothies. It’s delicious sprinkled on rice, potatoes or yogurt, too. A secret ingredient that makes a good thing even better.

Facts on Flax

  1. Flax seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for overall brain health as well as for preventing memory loss and depression.
  2. Including flax seeds in your diet can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels as much as 25 to 65 percent, especially in women.
  3. Eating flax seeds daily stabilizes blood sugar and can reduce the effects of diabetes.
  4. A 3 tablespoon serving of flax seeds is as rich in omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids as one pound of fish.
  5. Flax seeds are rich in fiber: 3 tablespoons contains one half the daily requirement.
  6. Flax seeds are rich in soluble fiber that carries toxins out of the body.
  7. Flax seeds are rich in lignans—800 times more than any food on earth—which may help fight prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
  8. Lignans also decrease the severity of hot flashes and decrease inflammation related to diseases like arthritis and lupus.
  9. Flax seeds are high in protein, containing 10 grams in each 3 tablespoon serving
  10. Flax seeds are rich and filling, with their high-fiber content and omega-3 fatty acids, and create a full, satisfied feeling.

Photo of Flax Seed

Flax seed can be purchased whole or ground. To get the maximum nutrition, it’s important to grind whole flax seed before eating. Buying it already ground is fine, but ground flax seed must be kept refrigerated to keep the oils from becoming rancid. It’s cheaper to buy it whole, and easier to ensure freshness over a longer period of time. Using a blender or an old coffee grinder to grind a few servings at a time is easy enough.

But, what kind of flax? Brown flax or golden flax? Does the brand matter?

Like any other food, quality and freshness really do matter. And, some varieties of flax are more nutrient-rich than others.

I was excited to find some locally-grown brown flax seed this summer in Vermont. At about the same time, I was finishing up some golden flax seed that I’d brought home from a farmers market in Minneapolis. I’d been impressed enough at the time to carry a few pounds home in my suitcase. But, was it really different, or was I swept away in yet another moment of farmers market excitement? The golden flax seed was visibly more oily, had a sweeter smell and a sweet, nutty taste. When ground, the brown flax was light, dry and fluffy.

My golden flax really had been something special, after all.

Grown in North Dakota, this flax seed was noticeably heavier than any I’d seen before, and shiny with oil. It had a sweet, nutty flavor when chewed whole. The variety, developed at the University of North Dakota for its nutritional value, is called “golden omega.” My farmers market vendor is the sales rep for North Dakota farmer Randy Miller’s golden flax, marketed under the name Ellie’s Whole Grains. Ellie is a walking, talking flax evangelist, who radiates health and enthusiasm that would convince even the most reluctant eaters to give it a try. She calls her golden flax seed “gourmet” flax seed.

Much of the packaged flax seed we buy originates in China, which is the third largest producer of flax in the world. Most flax seed is genetically modified. When I buy a bag of flax seed at the health food store, I know very little about where and how it was grown.

Other than stumbling across the brown flax seed in Vermont, I’m not aware of a local source, but I’d love to find one. I know that flax requires a rich soil that drains well and is high in organic matter. It also likes cool nights. Like other grains, it might be that New England farms just lack the wide, open fields that lend themselves to the super-sized farm equipment needed for grain production.

In the mean time, I’m so impressed by my Minneapolis find, that I’ll continue to mail-order a jug of it every few months.

Photo of Jug of Ellie's Whole Grains Flax Seed

Note: Although I love this brand of flax seed, I have no connection with this company and derive no benefit from promoting it other than the satisfaction of sharing information about a good thing.

26 responses

  1. Great post. We purchase Inari Organic Golden Flax Seed. It’s already milled (and immediately vacuum packed for freshness) and I just keep it in the freezer. It never lasts long anyway. :) And it is a product of Canada; (where I live) grown in the northern prairies. I’ve been really pleased with this product. I wonder though, how much yours costs (and what quantity is in the big container) versus what I’m paying. Mine is 6.89 (Canadian) for a pound. Mind you I only have to walk down the street to get it so convenience is a plus. Thanks again for all the facts. It’s always good to be reminded of the importance of superfoods. -Debbie

  2. Sounds like you have a great source! I think I paid about $32 and that jug contains 96 ounces (6 pounds). It’s definitely cheaper to buy it whole rather than ground. Although not certified organic, this is a really nice product, plump with oil. That said, if I had a local, organic source I was happy with, I might just stick with it!

  3. Is Eating Too Much Flax Seed Bad?
    Like any other food, eating excessive amounts of flax seeds can be harmful to your health. Raw flax seeds naturally contain cyanogenic glycosides-such as linamarin, linustatin, and neolinustatin. These cyanogenic glycosides can release cyanates that can be combined with sulfur molecules in our body to form thiocyanates. Excessive amounts of thiocyanates can sometimes be a problematic for our thyroid function and, for this reason, flax seeds are considered goitrogenic. These cyanogenic glycosides are not exclusive to flaxseed and are found in brassica vegetables and cassava, with many of the health concerns regarding cyanogenic glycosides stemming from studies showing that cassava was toxic to animals and humans (McMahon and others 1995). Cassava contains significantly more cyanogenic glycosides than flaxseed.
    In addition to cyanogenic glycosides, trypsin inhibitor, linatine, and phytic acid are other antinutrients contained in flaxseed. Trypsin inhibitor activity (TIA) in flaxseed is lower than those in soybean and canola seeds.
    Other anti-nutritional compound present in flax seeds is linatine, an antipyridoxine factor. Although linatine is a problem in chicks, flaxseed has not been associated with a vitamin B6 deficiency in humans. In fact, no effect on serum pyridoxine levels in subjects consuming 45 grams of flaxseed per day over 5 wk has been observed (Dieken 1992). These data suggests that linatine is not of a concern as long as we eat less than 45 g of flax seeds a day.
    FlaxPro Ready to eat Flax seeds
    How much is too much flax seeds?
    Daun and others (2003) reported that a person would have to consume 8 cups (1 kg) of ground flaxseed to achieve acute cyanide toxicity. At the recommend daily intake of about 1 to 2 tablespoons, approximately 5 – 10 mg of hydrogen cyanide is released from flaxseed, which is well below the estimated acute toxic dose for an adult of 50 to 60 mg inorganic cyanide and below the 30 to 100 mg/d humans can routinely detoxify (Roseling 1994)
    Eating excessive amounts of flax seeds too quickly can cause mild digestive problems in some people. This means flax seeds take some getting used to. We suggest: start out with a teaspoon daily and work your way up to a tablespoon. In a balanced diet that already provides omega-3 fatty acids from other foods, one tablespoon (eight grams) of flaxseed daily will often provide enough alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to meet person’s omega-3 dietary needs.

  4. Flax seed is one of the crops I hope to grow once I am living out on my land. As a vegetarian, I’ve always appreciated it.
    I mix it into bread dough and pancake batter and include it in a high protein drink of blended yogurt, skim milk, whey powder (and anything else that I think of to give it more flavor like fruit or cocoa. We don’t eat it every day, but multiple times a week.

    But I learned a lot more about it in your post.
    I’ve always felt it’s better to grind my own seed fresh for each use, but I haven’t thought much about types of seed. Till now.
    Thanks!

  5. I’ve been experimenting with making sprouted flax seed crackers (I’ll share the recipe), both in the dehydrator and the oven. Just flax seed, vegetables and spices. As I was working on them yesterday, I was wondering if any home gardeners or homesteaders are growing it for themselves….not around here (New Hampshire), I’m pretty sure. Keep us posted!

  6. I know about the benefits of flax but havn’t really developed a liking for it. I read about flax seed sprouting and am hoping to find time to experiment. Do you make you own flax seed sprouts?

  7. The only time I tried it was when I experimented with making sprouted flax seed crackers (raw). The seed becomes very gelatinous when it pops, so the results are quite sticky. That process didn’t call for sprouting all the way to green sprouts — just enough to explode the seed. I keep meaning to just try sprouting in my sprouter for the heck of it, so thanks for the reminder! Let me know if you have success. Yes, it’s really good for us.

  8. Pingback: Flax Seed, Oats and Yogurt YUM | Tricia's Things

  9. Great article and discussions in comments.

    I am curious about this line though “Most flax seed is genetically modified. When I buy a bag of flax seed at the health food store, I know very little about where and how it was grown.”

    Which companies have genetically altered flax seed? Given that it is a relatively unusual food for America, I wouldnt have thought that it would have been GM’ed already. Do you have any data/sources that confirm that flax seed used in the US is GM?

    Also, if a health food store or brand says it is Organic, isnt it safe to assume that it is NOT genetically modified (unless of course if the store or the brand are plain lying).

    Do we know if Ellie’s seeds are GM or not?

    Another area that concerns me is what I read on Ellie’s website about grinding flax seeds in a coffee grinder. She says that the heat of the grinding is enough to destroy some of the goodness. Her company has designed a patent “cold pressing/milling/grinding” process. Do you know if this is just a marketting gimic or if this is indeed a cause for concern? Why not just take 1 teaspoon and chew it thoroughly? Wouldnt that give you the same results as ingesting cold pressed powdered flax seeds?

    • Buying certified organic should ensure that you’re not getting a GM product. GM flaxseed is under wide cultivation in the U.S., but not Canada (GMO Compass database), so buying Canadian might be a good idea, too. My understanding from talking with Ellie is that hers is not GM, but I’ll check again. What I love about this brand is its heavy oil content—thick, oily seeds—compared to what I can buy locally. And gold is more oily than brown. The grinding is an issue. I am not able to chew the seeds enough to break them (they’re tough). I grind mind in my Blendtec blender, before using in smoothies, and that works fine. I’ve tried grinding in a mortar and pestle and, again, they’re too tough and slippery. It just doesn’t work. Good luck!

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  12. I purchased whole flax seeds and I soak about 2 tbsp in water and have it first thing in the morning with water….is this good or should I have to powder the seeds and add it with yogurt, milk etc…

    • If you’re soaking them long enough for the seeds to explode (you’ll know because they’ll create a lot of gelatinous goo), I think you’re probably okay. If they’re plump but not exploded, they’re probably going through your system intact—meaning you won’t get nourishment from them, just bulk.

  13. So I add whole flax seeds to my food daily, as I’ve been reading blending it I will get more nutrients. I dont own a coffee blender but I can buy it at the store blended. . My question is how would I keep it fresh???

    • Hi Christina. Just be sure to keep the bag (sealed) in the fridge once you open it. Sniff it when you first open it and try to remember its smell—if it goes rancid, it will smell unpleasant. How long it keeps once the bag is open can vary, but I’d be comfortable with a month or so. So, buy it in small quantities and make sure you’re buying it from a good store where turnover is pretty high. Good luck!
      Eleanor

      • Recently due to severe pain and swelling in area over my right big toe doctor suspected of increased uric acid in blood. Though uric acid was found under normal limit but still doctor advised me to stay away from any high protein diet including flax seed powder.
        What’s suggestion for me regarding taking flax seed powder.

        Regards

        Vijay Bisht

  14. I am considering trying flax for the first time and your article was very helpful! I am glad now that I didn’t go ahead and buy a big bag to start with today. I will look for a smaller bag and use that until my family and I get used to it. Thanks for the info!

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