At Be Well, we’re all about sharing tips to help people improve their health—and sustain it. For some, getting their health on track may mean a complete overhaul, and for others, a bit of fine-tuning will do the trick. But no matter where you fall on the health-improvement spectrum, some easy-to-incorporate, healthy tweaks are a great way to help you get on and stay on the path.
Recently, when asked to name a few of my go-to pantry essentials, I was reminded of one of my favorites: flaxseed. It’s one of those no-brainer health boosters that no pantry (or diet) should be without. Here’s why:
It’s What’s Inside That Counts
Though most of us are probably more familiar with the flax plant in its wearable form, aka linen, in its edible incarnation, the tiny brown seeds have a tasty, nutty flavor and are great for you. More nutrient-dense than nuts, flaxseeds are rich in fiber, protein, minerals, and omega-3s in the form of heart-loving alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). They’re also a top source of lignans, which offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, plus important micronutrients like magnesium and copper, and vitamins B1, 2, and 6. Think of them as one of nature’s multivitamins in whole-food form.
Handle With (a little) Care
When buying flaxseed, try to buy organic, local, non-GMO-certified, or the best quality possible, paying attention to the “use by” date. Look for whole seeds rather than manufacturer-ground versions, which can go rancid quickly (due to their high fat content). Grinding your own small batches of flaxseeds into a powder form is best for digestion and nutrient absorption. To grind them, simply pour the seeds into a small coffee-bean grinder or food processor and pulse for five or 10 seconds. Decant the flaxseed powder into a glass jar, seal tightly, store in the fridge, and use within a few days of grinding. How to know if your flaxseed powder has turned? Do a taste test: If you pick up a burnt, bitter, or sour taste, or the powder smells a bit like oil paint, then it’s time to toss.
Push Back Disease—and Love Up Your Gut
In addition to the protein, fiber, fats, and minerals found in flaxseeds, a number of studies have shown them to be helpful in reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and cancer risk, as well as assisting with blood pressure regulation—thanks, soluble fiber! Flaxseed is also thought to be helpful with weight-loss efforts by adding low-carb, belly-filling fiber to meals. Where flaxseeds really shine though is in your gut. Flaxseeds feed your good gut bacteria, enabling them to thrive—and beat back any opportunistic bacterial invaders. Those fortified good gut bacteria will keep immunity strong and your digestive system humming. All that and flaxseed fiber also promotes regularity—one more bonus for your body!
To access your ground flaxseed bounty, start the day by adding a sprinkle or two to your morning smoothies, yogurt, or even egg dishes. At lunch, top salads or avocado toast with a light dusting of flaxseeds. At dinner, toss a teaspoon into soups and sauces. For an after-dinner, fiber-rich treat, top baked apple or warm berries with a dash of cinnamon and ground flax.
If you’re just getting started with flaxseeds, keep in mind that they’re rich in fiber, so use a light touch at first to see how your body responds. Also, be sure to up your water intake to facilitate digestion and proper elimination. Too much of a good fiber thing can trigger diarrhea in some folks or encourage constipation in others. Again, start slow. Also, if you’re prone to digestive issues, pregnant, or on blood thinners or blood sugar meds, check with your doc first. Assuming all is well, then start sprinkling—a tablespoon or two a day is plenty—or try incorporating them into baked goods, like this tasty flax-centric Flax Bread recipe from Elana’s Pantry.