For my healthy brother’s milestone birthday a while back, part of my gift to him was a package of flaxseeds. I likely didn’t explain to him all their amazing benefits, nor the meaning behind my gift. It ultimately signified that I wished him the best of health always so that we could continue to share good times together for many years to come. So David, and everyone else reading this today, read on for all the great reasons to incorporate these little powerhouses into our daily eating, along with a few ideas about how to do it.
A Quick Overview
Flaxseeds are very high in lignan precursors – about 100 times more than other foods. Once activated by the good bacteria in our gut, lignans act as both antioxidants and phytoestrogens. Flaxseeds are also one of the richest plant-based sources of the essential omega-3 fatty acid (second only to chia seeds). They are high in both soluble and insoluble fibres, and phytochemicals. Check out an excellent review article about the potential health benefits of flax here. Flax is no new kid to the healthy eating block. It has actually been used for centuries as a natural medicine. Studies are showing that eating flax can help with blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, and inflammation, to name a few. It’s hard to believe this is all packaged in these little seeds which are really inexpensive. Given the low price and the fact that there won’t be any negative side effects, it seems to me that incorporating some into our daily routine is well worth it.
A Deeper Dive
With that, let’s take a closer look at what the research shows about the impact of flax on two troubling health issues: high blood pressure and cancer.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the number-one risk factor for death in the world. In this high quality research study, patients with hypertension who ate 30 grams/day of ground flax in a blinded fashion showed, on average, a drop from 158/82 to 143/75 after 6 months. It is expected that the 7-point decrease in diastolic BP would result in 46% fewer strokes and 29% less heart disease over time. And the decrease is the same, if not better, than what we see with medications, like calcium-channel blockers and ACE inhibitors. The study authors noted, “In summary, flaxseed induced one of the most potent antihypertensive effects achieved by a dietary intervention.”
The lignans derived from flax may reduce prostate tumour-proliferation rates (see here). And in terms of possible prevention, higher levels of lignans have been found in the prostate fluids of populations with a relatively low rate of prostate cancer (see here).
Lignans are associated with significantly reduced breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women (see here) and in women at high risk of developing it (see here). And a well designed study showed daily flaxseed for 5 weeks has the potential to reduce tumour cell growth in breast cancer patients (see here).
Buying and Storing Flax
Look for flaxseeds in bulk food stores, health food stores and non-discount grocery stores. We buy them unground, then grind a couple weeks’ worth in a coffee grinder. You can also use a blender or spice grinder. Alternatively, you can purchase them already ground. Ground flaxseeds last at least four months at room temperature.
So you want to give flax a go. You’ve tracked them down. They’re ground up and sitting in your kitchen. How do you eat them? They have a mild taste which helps when incorporating them into our daily meals and snacks. Aim for about one tablespoon ground flax per day. Or, if you want to lower your blood pressure, try for four tablespoons per day (equivalent to the 30 grams per day taken in the research study noted above). With some experimentation you will find what works best for you, but here are a few things you could add it to:
- soups and stews
In good health,