Description & history
Despite being native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India, flax seed, also known as common flax or linseed, is a crop grown in cooler regions of the world. Currently, 40% of the world’s flax seed production comes from Canada with the United States, China and India making up the next 40% (1).
The flax seed we know today, species name Linum usitatissimum, is known only as a cultivated plant (2) having been domesticated from the wild species Linum bienne (3). As well as being produced for human consumption, flax seed also has a wide variety of uses in various industries, for example, in the production of textiles, paints, paper and in baking (4).
Flax seed gains its status as a superfood due to its nutritionally dense profile and is renowned as a great source of dietary fibre, omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamin B1, and copper, minerals and antioxidants (5,6).
Here’s a detailed nutrient breakdown per serving (1 table spoon of ground Flax Seed, 7g) (7)
- Calories: 37 kcal
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 3 grams (0.1g saturated fat)
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Dietary fibre: 2 grams: 8% RDA
- Calcium: 2% of the RDA
- Folate: 2% of the RDA
- Iron: 2% of the RDA
- Magnesium: 7% of the RDA
- Manganese: 9% of the RDA
- Potassium: 2% of the RDA
- Phosphorus: 4% of the RDA
- Copper: 4% of the RDA
- Zinc: 2% of the RDA
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 8% of the RDA
- Vitamin K: 0.3 mcg
From a macronutrient perspective, although there’s a good percentage of protein and carbs (18% and 29% respectively), 42% of flax seed’s calories mainly come from fat, of which only a very small percentage is saturated fat. This is why it’s is seen as a great product to boost good fats in any healthy recipe.
A good source of dietary fibre
Fibre is carbohydrate derived from plant material, the bulk of which comes from cellulose, the primary structural component of plant cell walls. From a human health perspective, fibrous molecules are indigestible and serve a number of purposes such as, amongst others, aiding digestion, toxin excretion, reduction of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
As you can see from the above section, standing at around 27% of its nutritional profile, flax seeds are a great source of fibre; both soluble and insoluble (8).
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid necessary for proper bodily. Although they cannot be synthesised within the body, and therefore need to be consumed, these essential fatty acids are necessary for a range of bodily functions, such as, growth and development, renal function, reducing blood pressure and maintaining healthy skin and hair. In addition, they are also thought to combat a range of health problems, for example, they help in controlling blood clotting and can provide protection against heart disease and stroke (9).
Flax Seed is known as an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant version of omega-3 with flax seed oil being made up of around 50% ALA, five times more than walnut oil or canola oil, which are the next highest sources of ALA (10).
Vitamins and minerals
As outlined in the nutritional profile section, flax seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals, in particular Vitamin B1, Copper, Magnesium, Manganese and Phosphorus. Further, a 7g serving also provides 3 micrograms of Vitamin K which is said to play an essential role in the formation of certain proteins involved in blood clotting and in building bone (11).
Antioxidants are molecules which neutralise free radicals (12) by inhibiting the oxidation of other molecules. In health terms, antioxidants are important and are widely used as dietary supplements as the neutralisation of free radicals is associated with the prevention of many diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Because it’s a plant, flax seed is one of the best sources of lignans – phytochemicals known to be powerful antioxidants (13).
Potential role in fighting diseases and health issues
In addition to some of the health benefits already mentioned, flax seeds are also thought to play a role in the management of health conditions and disease prevention. For example, due to its strong nutritional profile flax seed can improve digestive health (14), increase immunity (15), help prevent heart disease (16) and even cancer (17).
How to select, store and use
Flax seed is available in three main forms: as whole seeds, ground or as oil. Storage for whole seeds and ground is pretty straightforward; just keep in an airtight container and if you store in the fridge its life will be extended.
In our opinion, ground flax seed is preferable to whole seeds as it’s much easier to build into your meals. It’s ideal in smoothies, on breakfast cereal and can even be used with fish. Some of our recipes use ground flax seed so check them out if you need some inspiration.
When it comes to the oil form, it’s easily perishable and should be purchased in bottles which have been refrigerated. As with olive oil, it’s not the best for cooking at high temperatures as it’s easily oxidised and can be harmful, however, it can be used to accompany food which has already been cooked (18).