What are the Benefits of Flax?

Mary McMahon

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.

Flax seeds.
Flax seeds.

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.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in flax seed oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in flax seed oil.

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.

The flowers of a flax plant.
The flowers of a flax plant.

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.

Flax seeds may be used to make bread.
Flax seeds may be used to make bread.

Discussion Comments


@GenevaMech- You can mix flax into things like smoothies and yogurt. I often have a blended protein shake with flax and fruit for breakfast. A flax protein shake is a great combination of fruits carbohydrates, and protein that starts my day better than running out of the house with only a piece of toast or an egg sandwich. I will blend things like berries, peaches, bananas, applesauce or other fruit with bulk protein, yogurt, flax and a little honey to make the perfect power breakfast.


@Genevamech- Ground flax seed has many benefits. You can easily incorporate flax meal into most baked goods, porridge, batters, and shakes. I make baked and breaded chicken with ground flax seeds. You can hardly tell there are flax seeds in the dish because they crisp in the oven and blend in with the rest of the breading.

I also enjoy mixing ground flax seeds into pancake batter. I am a big fan of oatmeal and bran pancakes loaded with chopped or grated fresh fruit. Adding flax is a great way to get healthy fats and fiber into a food that is often considered a diet buster. Displacing some of the flour with ground flax seed means that the net carbohydrates per pancake are much less.


Does anyone have a good flax seed recipe? I want to combine flax seeds into my diet, but I do not know what to use them in. Should I eat them whole, or should I grind them?


@Chicada- Flaxseed has many benefits as the article stated, but they do not have all of the Omega fatty acids. Flax has Alpha Lineolic Acid (ALA), but lacks the Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaeonic Acid (DHA) found in fish. The significance of this is that the body must convert ALA into DHA. The efficiency of this biochemical process is low so you must intake considerably more ALA than DHA and EPA to get the same benefits of fish oil.

Conversely, flax has other benefits. Flax seeds are rich in fiber, although you must eat the seeds to get the benefits. Luckily the seeds have little flavor, and it is easy to cook with them. I personally take a premium fish oil free of mercury, and eat ground flax seeds with my morning meal.


Does flax seed oil have the same omega benefits of fish oil? I need to increase my intake of fatty acids, but I hate the fishy indigestion that fish oil tablets give me.

Someone in my office told me that flax seed oil capsules are the same, and they do not leave you with fishy breath. Does anyone have any more information about the benefits of flax and fish oils?

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