Flax Seed Health Benefits

People have eaten flaxseed since ancient times, and evidence of its health and nutritional benefits is plentiful. The first recorded uses of flax come from Southern Mesopotamia where flax was grown as long ago as 5,000 B.C. In the succeeding millennia, flax spread across Europe, Africa, Asia and finally to North America. Today flax enjoys increasing popularity throughout the world as a nutritious food.

Flax’s high nutritional value makes it a popular choice among people demanding healthful and delicious foods. That’s because flaxseed has a pleasant nutty flavour. Flaxseed is also rich in dietary fibre and lignans, plentiful in vitamins and minerals, and very high in essential fatty acids — a natural fit for better-health-diets!

The essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA or LNA), found in flaxseed must be eaten as part of the diet. The body then converts it into two others: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They each play an important role in good nutrition.

The top 3:

Omega-3 fatty acid
Flaxseed contains 42% oil mostly comprised of healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids. Flaxseed contains 55 to 57% of the essential omega-3 fatty acid, ALA.

Flaxseed is one of the richest plant sources of lignans, providing up to 800 times more lignans than most other foods.

Flaxseed contains soluble and insoluble fibre.










Why do we need Omega-3 fats from flax?

Flaxseed provides a unique mix of fatty acids. It is low in saturates (less than 9% of total fatty acids) and contains the essential fatty acids omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA; 18:3) and omega-6 linoleic acid (LA; 18:2). Essential fatty acids are required in the diet as they cannot be made by humans. ALA makes up between 53 to 57% of the fatty acids in flaxseed oil, making it the richest plant source.

Supported by solid scientific findings and increasing consumer interest, the market for omega 3 fatty acids is growing at an impressive rate. Two of the most popular sources for omega-3s are flaxseed and fish oil, either from whole foods or supplements. Fish oils are sources of the long-chain omega-3s — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Our modern diets are extremely lacking in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, more than one-third of adults are likely not getting the recommended amount of essential ALA (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24694001). And children are probably no better off as well. Prior to the industrial revolution, the intakes of omega-3 and omega-6 were approximately equal (1 to 1 ratio), but today our diets have significantly changed resulting in a very high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (16:1 or greater). Only a couple of generations ago, our ancestors were not plagued to the same degree with the diet-associated illness that are so prevalent today, with the change in dietary fat intake (and thus the ratio) likely being one major contributor.

Not only do our modern diets include a lot less omega-3, but we are eating a lot more omega-6 due to its abundance in our food supply (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21367944).

The good news is that with the help of flaxseed which contains almost four times more ALA than LA, we can return to eating a diet that more closely resembles that of our ancestors and greatly improve our dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratio – as well as our health.

Crack an Omega-3 egg for good health

Looking for new ways to increase your omega-3 intake? Try omega-3 eggs which are produced from hens fed a special poultry feed containing flaxseed. These eggs provide a tasty and convenient way to add omega-3 fatty acids to the diet.

Omega-3 eggs are fast becoming very popular in North America. Sold under several labels in the retail market, they are especially attractive to anyone concerned with omega-3 intake. Omega-3 eggs contain eight to 10 times more total omega-3 fatty acids, and all of the vitamins and other nutrients, of regular eggs.

The Institute of Medicine recommended dietary intake of ALA is 1.6 g/day for men and 1.1 g/day for women, or 0.6-1.2% of energy intake. The omega-3 egg can provide approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 enriched eggs are a great alternative to fish for these essential fatty acids.

The goodness of flax

Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) contains high quality protein, fat, and dietary fibre to support a healthy lifestyle. On average, Canadian flaxseed contains 41% fat, 20% protein, and 28% total dietary fibre. This modest seed is a wealth of nutrition due to its content of three health-promoting components: the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, (20% of dry weight); the plant lignan secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG, 1% of dry weight); and soluble fibre (6% of dry weight) (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20003621).

Flaxseed provides a unique mix of fatty acids. It is low in saturates (less than 9% of total fatty acids) and contains the essential fatty acids omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA; 18:3) and omega-6 linoleic acid (LA; 18:2). Essential fatty acids are required in the diet as they cannot be made by humans. ALA makes up between 53 to 57% of the fatty acids in flaxseed oil, making it the richest plant source.

A healthy claim for flax

In 2014, Health Canada approved a health claim for flax based on evidence that linked ground (milled) whole flaxseed with reductions in blood cholesterol. The research supporting the claim demonstrated that flaxseed decreased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels by 0.21 mmol/L and 0.22 mmol/L, respectively (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_formats/pdf/label-etiquet/claims-reclam/assess-evalu/flaxseed-graines-de-lin-eng.pdf).

An example of the permitted claim for ground flaxseed is: “16 g (2 tablespoons) of ground flaxseed supplies 40% of the daily amount shown to help lower cholesterol”. The “daily amount” referred to in the claim is 40 g (5 tablespoons) of ground whole flaxseed. In addition to the primary claim statement, the following statements may be used:

  • Ground (whole) flaxseed helps reduce/lower cholesterol
  • High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease
  • Ground (whole) flaxseed helps reduce/lower cholesterol, (which is) a risk factor for heart disease

In approving a claim about ground whole flaxseed and blood cholesterol lowering, Health Canada’s Food Directorate concluded that this relationship is relevant and generally applicable to the Canadian population given that a high proportion of the population (39% of Canadians aged 6 to 79) has unhealthy total cholesterol levels, putting them at an increased risk for heart disease.

Together omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, dietary fibre and lignans make flax a tiny seed that packs a big nutritional punch ! Further evidence that good things really do come in small packages!

Cooking with flax

When you add flax seed to your cooking, you add a pleasant, nutty taste, and more. The attractive, oval reddish-brown seeds of flax add taste, extra texture and good nutrition to your breads and other baked goods. That’s why flax has been long-used in multi-grain cereals and snack foods. Flax seed also delivers the benefits of its soluble fibre, lignans, omega-3 fatty acid and protein.

Flax seed can be added to your cooking in its ground or whole seed form.

Whole flax seed – The small, reddish-brown seeds of flax add nutrition when added to bread doughs, pancake, muffin or cookie mixes. When sprinkled on top of any of these before baking, they also add crunch, taste and eye appeal.

Ground flax seed – Grind a desired amount of flax seed to a free-flowing granular consistency in a coffee bean grinder. Added to any foods, the ground flax seed enhances the flavour, appearance and food value of the finished product.

Flax seed replaces oils

Flax seed can replace the oil or shortening called for in a recipe because of its high oil content. If a recipe calls for 1/3 c of oil, use 1 c of milled flax seed to replace the oil — a 3:1 substitution ratio. When flax seed is used instead of oil, baked goods tend to brown more rapidly.


Whole flax seed which is clean, dry and of good quality, can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. For optimum freshness, ground flax seed should be ground as needed, or refrigerated in an airtight, opaque container.

Flax seed in vegetarian baking

Vegetarians can substitute a flax seed mixture for eggs in selected recipes like pancakes, muffins and cookies. These baked goods are slightly gummier and chewier than normal, and the volume is decreased. When using the substitution formula, test a recipe first to determine if it meets your expectations.

The formula is:15 mL (1 tbsp) milled flaxseed, plus 45 mL (3 tbsp water) = 1 egg.
Mix milled flax seed and water in a small bowl and let sit for 1 to 2 minutes. Add to recipe as you would an egg.