Flaxseeds and Benefits
As small and unimpressive as flaxseeds may be at first glance, they come packed with a surprisingly long list of health benefits. The tiny seeds contain antioxidant compounds, fight the body’s inflammatory response, are phytoestrogenic (more on that later), and they can help dieters feel fuller longer while keeping blood sugar steady.
This last benefit—slowing the rate at which the stomach empties itself after a meal—is due to flaxseeds’ unsexy sounding combo of mucilage and both soluble and insoluble fiber. The gooey mucilage, which is present in almost all plants but is especially abundant in flaxseeds, expands when it reaches the moist environment of the stomach. Like fiber, mucilage is slow to digest, so the stomach holds onto its contents longer. That, in turn, keeps blood sugar from spiking the way it does with a rapidly digested low-fiber, high-sugar meal (say, white-flour pancakes with syrup), which triggers the release of insulin and quickly makes you hungry all over again.
Melina Jampolis, M.D., a physician nutrition specialist and author of The Calendar Diet: A Month By Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life, says, “I recommend putting 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed into yogurt, smoothies and even baking with it to add a fiber, healthy-fat and omega-3 boost to meals and snacks daily.” She notes that you get all those benefits for a mere 75 calories in the 2 tablespoons, too. If, however, you aren’t used to eating a high-fiber diet or have never tried flax before, you would be wise to start off with only a teaspoon of ground flax and work your way to 2 tablespoons, since it can have a laxative effect. (There’s a reason you see flaxseed frequently included in cleanse formulas!)
Dr. Jampolis adds that ground flax is better for you than whole seeds because grinding the seeds frees up the nutrients. Once ground, however, flaxseeds need to be refrigerated in an opaque container and used quickly, since the seeds’ oils go rancid after about a month. Instead, you can use a coffee or spice grinder to mill the whole seeds at home yourself as needed. For baking, ground flax can substitute for a small amount of flour. In recipes that call for 2 or more cups of flour, you can replace up to a quarter cup of flour with flax meal.
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