Flax, a crop with distinctive blue flowers and small golden seeds, is cultivated in many regions of the world for its valuable seeds and fibers. Flax seeds carry a number of nutritional benefits which have led some people to consider flax a “superfood,” and the fibers of the plant can be spun into thread which can be used to make linen, a popular textile. When evaluating the benefits of flax and other so-called superfoods, it is important to remember that additional studies are often required to verify claims, and that the healthiest diet is a balanced one which includes nutrition from numerous sources.
In terms of nutritional value, flax has some definite benefits. Flax seeds are high in vitamin B, along with manganese and magnesium. They are also low in carbohydrates, a concern for some people, and they are high in alpha linolenic acid, a type of omega three fatty acid. Omega threes have been linked with numerous health benefits. Flax seeds are also high in phytochemicals, compounds which are believed to be beneficial to human health.
The high level of alpha linolenic acid in flax can reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. This results in better cardiovascular health, making one of the most obvious benefits of flax a healthier heart. The phytochemicals in flax appear to reduce the risk of developing diabetes and cancer, while the high amount of lignan provides lots of fiber, promoting healthy digestion. The vitamins and minerals in flax convey additional health benefits.
In order to obtain the benefits of flax, it is necessary to eat whole, crushed seeds. Flaxseed oil does carry some benefits, but it lacks the fiber found in whole seeds, while the whole seeds can be difficult to digest, allowing the beneficial components of flax to pass through the body without being processed. Crushed flax seeds can be sprinkled on salads, added to breads, and used to dress a variety of foods so that people can access the benefits of flax.
Flax seeds can be prone to going rancid if they are stored improperly. It is best to store seeds whole and crush them if needed, and ideally the seeds should be stored under refrigeration, or in a very cool, dry place. Flaxseed oil should be kept in the fridge, and consumers should be aware that it only lasts a few weeks, even under refrigeration, so it is better to purchase small containers to enjoy the benefits of flax in oil form.