H for Health
A Small, Nutrient-Rich Superstar for Adults
If you wish to eat a plant-based diet for reasons related to health, sustainability, animal-welfare, or ocean biodiversity, then crushed flaxseed is a fantastic and affordable alternative to get your essential omega-3 fatty acids. In the context of diet and nutrition, “essential” implies that our bodies cannot produce these substances, and we must acquire them from our food or dietary supplements.
Flaxseeds can be found in regular supermarkets at a relatively low price. Organic varieties are readily available to bypass pesticide residues, which recent studies suggest might be detrimental to our gut microbiota.
Flaxseeds are filled with health-enhancing compounds that offer considerable benefits in addressing heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and constipation. They hold the record for the highest content of essential omega-3 fatty acids in food. They also contain ample dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and a group of phytoestrogens called lignans. For optimal utilization, flaxseed should be crushed before consumption.
By adding a tablespoon of crushed flaxseed to your daily meals, you can achieve significant health improvements.
Table of Content
5 Potential Health Benefits of Flaxseed:
1. Flaxseed and Our Circulatory System
Omega-3 combats inflammation and benefits our blood vessels. Studies have shown that regular flaxseed intake can lower blood pressure and reduce harmful LDL cholesterol, consequently reducing our risk of heart disease.
2. Flaxseed and Cancer
Research indicates that flaxseeds may inhibit cancer cell growth. Flaxseeds are the most abundant dietary source of lignans. These potent antioxidants protect our cells from damage that can contribute to cancer development. Lignans resemble the female sex hormone estrogen but typically exert an anti-estrogen effect. They can block natural estrogen by binding to the body’s estrogen receptors without activating them as much as natural estrogen does. This is particularly beneficial in breast cancer.
3. Flaxseed and Type-2 Diabetes
Studies show that flaxseeds can help reduce blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes and prediabetes. This is partly due to flaxseeds’ rich fiber content, which stabilizes blood sugar, and their high antioxidant content, which improves insulin sensitivity.
4. Flaxseed and Inflammation
The high omega-3 and lignan content in flaxseeds grant them anti-inflammatory properties from which we can all benefit. Western dietary patterns often lead to chronic inflammation and obesity, which further promote inflammation.
5. Flaxseed and Constipation
The abundant fiber in flaxseeds makes them an excellent remedy for constipation, a common ailment in the Western world. Fewer than 5% of Americans consume enough fiber.
Content of Cadmium and Cyanide in Flaxseeds
Although flaxseeds are among the most health-promoting foods, they demonstrate that “more is not always better”. Flaxseeds contain trace amounts of the heavy metal cadmium and the toxic compound cyanide, making it inadvisable to consume them in large quantities. However, current evidence does not suggest that consuming one tablespoon of crushed flaxseeds daily poses any risk for adults regarding cadmium or cyanide content.
Cadmium is present everywhere in the soil. High intake of cadmium can cause kidney damage and possibly increase the risk of cancer, which is why official dietary guidelines recommend that we pay attention to our total intake of cadmium in our diet. However, research suggests that the cadmium content in our diet may not be as significant if the diet contains many plants. This is because we absorb cadmium less effectively from plants than from animal foods. The high fiber content in plants inhibits the absorption of cadmium, leading to an increase in the cadmium content in feces. The opposite is true for a diet rich in animal foods, where cadmium absorption is increased, and excretion is lower.
Similarly to more than 2000 other plants, flaxseeds contain cyanogenic glycosides. These can be converted into the poisonous substance cyanide when the flaxseeds are ground. So, is it safe to consume one tablespoon of crushed flaxseeds per day? Research has shown that in a group of subjects who ate 30 grams (approximately 4.5 tablespoons) of crushed flaxseeds on an empty stomach, the subsequent average cyanide level in their blood was only 25% of the value deemed risk-free by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). There have been no documented cases of cyanide poisoning from the consumption of crushed flaxseeds in the scientific literature. Therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that the daily intake of one tablespoon of crushed flaxseeds for adults poses any risk in terms of the cyanide content in flaxseeds.
How Can We Incorporate More Flaxseeds into Our Diet?
To fully benefit from the health-promoting substances in flaxseeds, they should be crushed before consumption. You can easily do this yourself with a coffee grinder or small blender, or buy them pre-crushed. Crushed flaxseeds have a mild, nutty taste, making them easy to add to your diet. You can sprinkle them on muesli or yogurt, incorporate them into salads and smoothies, or add them to baked goods. When mixed with water, crushed flaxseeds can even substitute for eggs in many recipes, known as ‘flaxseed eggs’.
When we begin to increase the fiber content in our diet, it can initially cause some extra gas and occasionally stomach pains. It’s always a good idea to implement dietary changes gradually, so the body can adapt. This advice applies generally when transitioning to a more plant-based diet.
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