What’s the difference between linseed and flaxseed?
Let’s make one thing clear right from the start. Linseed and flaxseed are two different terms that both refer to the same thing, the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum). The only difference is that flaxseed is used to describe flax when consumed as food by people while linseed is used to describe flax as an industrial material to make clothing or paper (1).
Flax is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. It was first used to make linen fabric and clothing because its fibres are 2-3 times stronger than cotton. Unfortunately, it takes longer to harvest and make into fabric than cotton which is why it lost in popularity in this regard. But this is probably not why you’re reading this article. What you’re interested in is not linseed and its industrial uses. You’re here for flaxseed, the food that’s supposed to be really good for you. Let’s talk about that.
What are the benefits of flaxseed?
Flaxseed is growing in popularity as a health food for a good reason. Research on flax seeds as a dietary component suggests a wide range of possible benefits. Here is a quick overview of the 6 main areas where flaxseed can help.
- Source of valuable nutrients
- Helps with weight loss
- Aids digestion
- Improves blood sugar control
- Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
- Potentially helps fight cancer
But wait, this seems too good to be true. Aren’t there downsides? How much flaxseed do I need to eat to see these benefits? Glad you asked! Let’s go over each one of these in a bit more detail.
#1 It boasts an impressive nutrient profile
There are two common types of flaxseed you’ll find at the store, brown and golden flax seeds, and when it comes to nutrition, they are virtually the same. No matter which one you choose, this is what you can expect in about 2 tablespoons or 20 grams of flaxseed (2):
- 4,5 g of omega-3 fatty acids
- 3,6 g of protein
- 5,5 g of fibre (22 % of recommended daily value, DV)
- 78 mg of magnesium (18 % DV)
- 128 mg of phosphorus (10 % DV)
- 163 mg of potassium (4 % DV)
The best plant-based source of omega-3s
The most impressive part of the nutrient spectrum of flax seeds is their omega-3 content. There are three important types of omega-3 fats. The two that your body needs the most are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), unfortunately, you can’t find these in plants. Fish are the best source for these omega-3s.
Thankfully, plants contain the third type called alpha linoleic acid (ALA) which your body can convert to make the other two. There are several plant sources that are rich in ALA like chia seeds or walnuts but flaxseed is the king. Vegans or people that don’t eat fish should pay extra attention to their omega-3 intake and flax seeds could be a way to improve it.
#2 Flaxseed can help with weight loss
Flaxseed can be a valuable ally when trying to get in shape. A review of scientific literature concluded that flax seeds promote weight loss in overweight and obese people. Those who added flax seeds to their diet lost an average of 1 kg compared to the control group in experiments (3).
It keeps hunger in check
The biggest reason why flaxseed can contribute to weight loss is its effect on appetite. One study found that meals suppressed appetite much better when enriched with flaxseed dietary fibre (4). The soluble fibre contained in flaxseed slows digestion in the stomach, which gives more time to hormones that control appetite to act and provide a feeling of fullness. Flaxseed also contains a lot of protein and we explained in our previous article that that’s another nutrient that helps stave off hunger.
You can replace meat with flaxseed
Flaxseed has a benefit for those looking to reduce meat intake. It is a very good source of plant protein. One study showed that people who were given a meal with animal protein meal or plant protein registered no difference in terms of appetite, satiety or food intake between the two options (5).
#3 Eating flax seeds aids your digestion
Flaxseed promotes regular bowel movements and can improve your digestive health. That’s because it is rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut and insoluble fibre attracts water into your stool, increases their bulk and results in softer stools. Some evidence suggests that this can help prevent constipation and for those who have irritable bowel syndrome or diverticular disease (6).
#4 Flaxseed fibre may help control blood sugar
The soluble fibre in flax seeds has another benefit. It seems to help slow the absorption of sugar. A study found that people with type 2 diabetes who added 10–20 grams of flaxseed powder to their daily diet for at least 4 weeks saw reductions of 8–20% in blood sugar levels (7). Another study showed lower glucose and insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity after daily ingestion of 13 g of flaxseed for 12 weeks (8).
Flaxseed is also low in carbohydrates which is another reason why it’s a good option for people with diabetes. You can read more about how the low carb diet can help with diabetes management in our previous blog post.
#5 Flaxseed is good for your heart
Remember those beneficial omega-3s called ALA in flaxseed from earlier? Heart health is one of the big reasons why you should care about their dietary intake. A large review of 27 studies involving more than 250.000 people found that ALA was linked to a 14 % lower risk of heart disease (9).
It lowers your blood pressure
Studies on flax seeds also highlight its natural ability to lower blood pressure. According to a large review that looked at data from 11 studies, taking flax seeds daily for more than 3 months lowered blood pressure by 2 mmHg (10). It might seem like a small reduction but according to other research, a 2-mmHg reduction in blood pressure can lower the risk of dying from stroke by 10 % and from heart disease by 7 % (11).
It improves your cholesterol
Flax seeds can help your cardiovascular health also by improving cholesterol. One study showed that consuming 30 grams of flaxseed powder daily for 3 months lowers total cholesterol by 17 % and the “bad” LDL cholesterol by almost 20 % (12). Another study found that 10 grams of flaxseed powder daily for a month results in a 12 % increase in the “good” HDL cholesterol (13).
#6 Flaxseed may reduce the risk for cancer
There’s one thing about flaxseed that is often overlooked. It’s rich in antioxidants called lignans which have been shown to slow tumour growth by preventing them from forming new blood vessels. Studies suggest that flaxseed consumption may lower the risk of breast cancer (14) and prostate cancer (15).
What are the side effects of flaxseed?
You might be thinking that everyone should eat it based on the long list of benefits described in this article. But is flaxseed safe? The good news is that for most healthy people flaxseed is completely safe to eat on a daily basis. If you’re excited to start including it in your diet be aware of these two things.
- Consume flaxseed with plenty of fluid. Otherwise, it might make your constipation worse.
- Increase your intake of flaxseed gradually. Some people experience diarrhoea if they eat too much of it. Start with 1 teaspoon per day and increase only if all goes well.
Flaxseed can have some powerful positive effects on your body. These effects might not be desirable if you are using blood thinners or blood pressure medication, waiting for an operation, or are pregnant. If this is the case consult your doctor before increasing the amount of flaxseed in your diet.
How much flaxseed should you have per day?
The health benefits of flaxseed described in the referenced studies were using anywhere between 1 and 3 tablespoons or 10 to 30 grams of ground flax seeds per day. And most of them also lasted for at least one month, but typically longer. This is what you should aim for if you want to increase the chances of seeing these benefits in yourself too.
Is there such a thing as too much flaxseed? This probably differs from person to person but experts recommend to keep serving sizes under 5 tablespoons or 50 grams of flax seeds per day (16).
Should you eat ground or whole flaxseed?
This is an easy one to answer. You won’t get as many benefits from whole flax seeds because your intestines cannot break down the tough outer shell of the seeds. They often pass through your intestine undigested. Ground flax seeds are easier to digest.
When you go shopping, you should look for ground or milled flaxseed or flax meal. Or you can buy whole flax seeds and grind them in a blender or coffee grinder at home. Just keep in mind that whole flaxseed keeps a long time while freshly ground flax seeds should ideally be consumed within a week. In both cases it’s a good idea to store flaxseed in a cold and dark place to precent the oils inside from oxidizing and going rancid.
How to get more flaxseeds into your diet?
The good news is that this amazing food called flaxseed can be added to your diet in a variety of ways. Flax seeds have a relatively mild, nutty flavour which makes them ideal for both sweet and savoury dishes. You can grind them and eat raw or roast them to enhance their flavour.
The trick to increasing your flaxseed intake is to find ways to add them to foods you already enjoy eating. Here are a few tips to help you do that.
- Blend flax seeds into your smoothies
- Mix a spoon of flax meal into your soup to thicken it
- Add ground flaxseed to your favourite yogurt
- Add roasted flax seeds to your morning muesli
- Boost your cookie, cake, or muffin baking mix with flaxseed
- Try pizza, bread, or pasta made with flaxseed
Flaxseed can be an egg substitute in your recipes
The coolest thing about using flaxseed in the kitchen is that you can actually replace eggs in your recipes with it. It’s a popular vegan egg substitute. Simply whisk 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water until it becomes gelatinous to replace one egg.
We hope that after reading this article you are as excited about flaxseed as we are here at Lizza. We have plenty of flaxseed recipes for you to inspire your next breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. Check them out and enjoy!