Flax for heart health: Not just another seed

Flax for heart health: Not just another seed

Editor’s note: I’m excited to share this guest post, from Jessica Dugan, a dietetic student at the University of Alberta. Thanks to Jessica for researching this and sharing with us.


Chia, pepita (aka pumpkin), hemp, sesame, sunflower. So many seeds and so many nutrients, but you can only eat so much trail mix or salad topper in a day. 

A little seed called flax, however, can be super easy to add to meals and may be worth picking up on your next trip to the grocery store. Keep reading to learn why.

What makes flax fantastic?

Flaxseeds are small, flat, brown seeds, packed with lots of good things! In particular, the fibre, lignans and omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseeds make them uniquely beneficial.

Flaxseeds are high in soluble and insoluble fibre. While the soluble fibre in flaxseeds can help to lower cholesterol, the insoluble fibre works to benefit gut health. (Note: Flaxseed oil doesn’t contain any fibre and isn’t nearly as beneficial.)

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Compounds called lignans are also found in flaxseeds. They can help lower blood pressure, and may help to prevent plaque build-up within blood vessels, reducing the risk of heart attack.

Additionally, flaxseeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically ALA (alpha linoleic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids are especially beneficial, as they work in our bodies to help lower our risk of heart disease by protecting against inflammation!

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning that our bodies cannot make them, so it is important that we get them through our diets. Typically, the amount of omega-3 fatty acids we get in our diets is low, so it is critical that we find easy and enjoyable ways to include them in our day to day meals. 

flax seeds

How much flax?

One tablespoon of flaxseed provides ~1.75g of ALA omaga-3, which more than covers the amount required per day in adults. (Other sources of ALA omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, soy foods, canola oil, and omega-3 enriched eggs.)

Even more may be helpful, if cholesterol is a concern for you: Studies have shown that 2-5 tablespoons a day can modestly reduce total and LDL cholesterol, with no effect on HDL or triglycerides.

So omega-3 fatty acids are good for heart health, and one of the best ways to get them is through foods such as flaxseeds. Is this just another seed to add to my trail mix then? 

Not exactly.

Eating flaxseeds whole is not the most effective way to include them in your diet. While whole flax seeds will provide a great boost of fibre, they won’t give us all of the heart health benefits we are looking for, because they have a tough outer shell that our bodies cannot break down.

In order to access the essential  omega-3 fatty acids inside, we need to use ground flaxseeds. Flaxseeds can be found pre-ground at the store, or may be easily ground using a coffee bean grinder at home. Once ground, flaxseeds can be stored in the fridge for three months in a sealed, opaque (non-see through) container, or longer in the freezer.

Ground flaxseeds can be easily (and enjoyably) added to many foods. The taste may be slightly nutty, but is often undetectable. Even if you can’t see or taste it, you will know that the nutrients it is providing are super helpful to your health! Some popular ways to add ground flaxseeds to meals include:

  • Sprinkling ground flaxseeds on top of oatmeal 
  • Adding ~1 tbsp. ground flaxseeds to muffin batter before baking
  • Including a scoop of ground flaxseed in your morning smoothie 
  • Mixing ground flaxseeds into mustard, mayonnaise, peanut butter or jam before spreading onto your toast or sandwich bread
  • Stirring ground flaxseeds into your favourite yogurt

flax seeds sprinkled onto avocado

If you feel inspired to give your day a little nutrient boost, head to the store and pick up some flaxseeds to get started! There are so many fun ways to get creative in adding this nutritious seed to your day. Your heart will be happy that you did!

Do you keep flax in the kitchen? How do you use it? Chime in on Facebook and join the conversation!

 


REFERENCES: 

https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Fibre/Find-out-about-flax-seeds.aspx

https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Heart-Health/Omega-3-Fats-Deliver-Oh-Mega-Benefits.aspx

https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/050113p34.shtml

https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/migration/hc-sc/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/nutrition/dri_tables-eng.pdf