They’re a food that everyone has most likely heard of, and more importantly, everyone has in their kitchen. If not, you’ll want to after you learn the many benefits just a few of these seeds contain. That’s right, we’re talking about the simple flax seed, also known as linseed.

Flax actually comes from purple flowers (which are quite lovely, by the way). They’ve been used in ancient medicine for years for a number of health remedies, but only became popular here in the United States around 15 years ago. Flax seeds first became known as a healthy source of fiber and source of sterols for the heart, which they certainly are. They’re also popular for being a grain-free alternative to wheat bran and are similar in benefits such as insoluble fiber and vitamin E, but with the special feature of having ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) that is a form of omega-3 fats.

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Flax is also delicious! It makes for a yummy sprinkle onto oatmeal, in (or on top of) smoothies, can be used in place of grains (and eggs!) when baking, and is a nice way to fill you up faster without unhealthy fats, carbs, sugar, or fake fibers you buy at the drugstore. It’s also a food that can be used to treat a number of health ailments, all in a short amount of time.

Take a look at these five common ailments that can be alleviated with flax seeds and how to get in on the benefits!

1. Inflammation

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Heather McClees

Flax is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Many people believe that because flax (and chia) don’t contain EPA, the beneficial omega-3 found in algae and fish, that they’re not as beneficial, but this isn’t true at all. In fact, ALA can help boost blood sugar management, lower joint pain, lubricate the arteries, and reduces overall internal inflammation. ALA and EPA are both beneficial types of omega-3’s that you should be sure to eat enough of. Aim to get your ALA’s from flax since it’s the highest plant-based source and optimize EPA from algae either in the form of seaweed, algae supplements, or foods such as spirulina and chlorella. Both when used together work to bring down inflammation, but ALA is the most beneficial for reducing inflammation, even more so than EPA (which targets brain health more than joint health). Inflammation is caused by too many acidic foods that don’t contain enough healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and alkaline foods. Flax is an easy way to target inflammation every day, and … it’s just a sprinkle away! Use two tablespoons a day to benefit the most, though a few more tablespoons won’t hurt either.

2. Hot Flashes

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Heather McClees

Flax seeds are one of the best foods to balance the hormones in both men and women. In men, they can help boost testosterone levels by eliminating excessive estrogens we encounter through our food and the environment, but for women, they help alleviate hot flashes by balancing estrogen levels. How so? Flax seeds (and all seeds) are rich in phytoestrogens, which naturally occur in many plant-based foods. Phytoestrogens do not pose the same ill effects that estrogens from added hormones in our foods or chemicals in the environment do. They can in fact, balance the hormones and regulate the body’s natural cycle. Women suffering hot flashes can use flax seeds to reduce hot flashes and hormonal imbalances that lead to them. A couple tablespoons a day is a smart dosage to start with. Try using flax seeds in sugar-free vegan protein bars that are easy to make and are great for your hormones, not to mention pretty tasty too!

3. Mood Health

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Because of their omega-3’s, flax already has a good bit going for it in terms of mood health; omega-3’s not only improve serotonin uptake and trigger the response of relaxation in the body, but they also help you absorb other nutrients better that influence your mood. B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin D are all nutrients that optimize your mood and relieve depression naturally. Though B vitamins and vitamin C are not fat soluble (meaning they can be absorbed without fat), all healthy fats will boost absorption further. Think of healthy fats like a sponge for vitamins and minerals; they soak them up and you reap the benefits! B vitamins and vitamin C reduce stress that leads to depression and anxiety, and vitamin D is one of the most potent fat soluble vitamins that we need daily to function well. Flax contains omega-3 fats, mono-unsaturated fats, and some poly-unsaturated fats providing a well-rounded source to improve mood health, aid in vitamin and mineral absorption, and lubricate tissues in the brain needed for a healthy mood. Make a yummy raw pizza that uses flax in place of grains as the crust, sure to give you a mood boost and nice dose of comfort!

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4. Blood Sugar Regulation

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Flax is a unique source of fiber. Unlike grains, it contains no excess starch meaning that all of its carbs come from fiber that the body uses to get rid of wastes. This is a beautiful set up for healthy blood sugar levels because fiber slows down the release of glucose into the cells and also keeps you fuller longer. As a result, you won’t suffer those blood sugar swings as frequently but will still benefit from fiber’s energizing and filling benefits you might normally rely on grains for. Since flax contains fat, it has additional benefits for keeping you full and satiated to stabilize blood sugar even more. Lastly, flax is a good source of magnesium, a mineral that balances blood sugar levels and helps moderate insulin surges.

5. Digestion

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Flax’s fiber will regulate your system and aid in absorption of nutrients during the digestive process. Since it’s a relatively high-fiber food, starch-free, and moderate in fat and protein content, flax is very easy to digest. Unlike chia seeds, it also doesn’t swell as much in the bowel and is very easy for the body to break down. Because it can help regulate digestion and nutrient absorption, it also boosts good cholesterol levels and removes harmful cholesterol during the elimination process (much like oats and vegetables do). Finally, flax’s fiber feeds good bacteria in the digestive system helping to balance healthy flora in your gut to keep your immune system and  digestive system thriving! Try these Banana Apple Protein Donuts which contain flax and other great sources of fiber and nutrients with no added sugar.

Who knew a tiny, inexpensive seed could be so powerful, right? Just be sure you know a few tips so you can benefit from it as best as possible …

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Tips for Using and Storing Flax:

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You should be sure to buy flax seeds as fresh as possible since their fats are delicate and go rancid. Store them in the fridge in a colored container since they are also sensitive to light and air. Grind them before you use them or buy them pre-ground so your body can absorb all the benefits which it can’t do when they’re in whole form (though they still offer fiber in whole form). This is easy enough to do if you buy a package of raw flax (golden or brown which are only different in color) and grind them in your coffee grinder or a food processor. Grind 2 cups at a time, store in an old coffee container (or even a protein powder or cocoa container which work perfectly), and store in the fridge. Put a label on it that says “Flax” and you’ll be more apt to remember what it is, use it, and not toss it with your leftovers! 

Use flax seeds in smoothies, oatmeal, sprinkle onto salads, or just use it anywhere you’d like to add a nice nutty flavor to your foods. You can also bake with it, though some of the nutrients will be lost in the process.

What’s your favorite way to use flax?

Lead Image Source: Flickr