Flax seeds are usually found in home baking – they can be delicious scattered on scones, cakes or muffins, and can be added to breakfast cereals and granolas. As well as being a useful garnish, they’re also healthy too.
Flax seeds are a very good source of omega 3 oils. These are usually found in oily fish like salmon and tuna. Although no-one should rely entirely on one source of omega 3, their presence in flax seeds may be of particular interest to vegetarians, vegans and others who cannot consume oily fish. Omega 3 is important in maintaining a healthy heart, cognitive functions, and guards against diabetes.
Flax seeds in the form of meal are extremely high in fibre – which means that they help to keep your digestive system in very good working order. Unusually, they are a high fibre food with very low levels of carbohydrate, and so are a suitable source of fibre for people on low-carb diets.
Flax seeds may have a role in preventing breast cancer, as the nutrients called lignans that are found in flax seeds appear to inhibit the development of breast cancer. Although relatively little research has been carried out in the area, there is a proven link between the two factors. Lignans are also linked to fertility and maintaining regular periods and ovulation and decreasing the likelihood of developing complaints linked to hormone levels, including headaches, hot flushes, sleeplessness and mood swings.
Another area of women’s health where flax seed can be beneficial is in maintaining good bone health and density – flax seeds contain minerals that decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.
The fibre content of flax seeds and their natural oil content means that they are very good for those who suffer from hard stools and constipation. However, their laxative effect may be more than you have bargained for! You should start with a small dose, and people who have irritable bowel syndrome should be especially cautious with flax seeds.
Flax seeds are believed by many to promote healthy joints, and reduce joint pain, as well as acting as an anti-inflammatory. These properties means that many arthritis patients believe that consuming flax seeds will help their condition, although there is no definitely scientific link at the current time.
If you are consuming flax seeds in the form of flax seed oil capsules, be aware that the oil can become rancid. You fortunately will not be able to taste that they have ‘gone off’ before consuming oil capsules. However, if you notice later on that you have a strange taste in your mouth, then rancid flax seed oil may be the culprit. You can reduce the risk of this happening by keeping capsules in the fridge. Flax meal can also become rancid – it can be kept in the fridge for around three days, but should be frozen if needed to be stored beyond then.
Flax seeds on their own are indigestible – you will need to grind whole flax seeds into meal before they can be consumed. Alternatively, you can buy flax seed meal and oil products at health food shops and supermarkets.