Flax Seeds 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
By Adda Bjarnadottir, MS
Flax seeds (Linum usitatissimum) — also known as common flax or linseeds — are small oil seeds that originated in the Middle East thousands of years ago.
Flax seeds have been linked to health benefits, such as improved digestion and a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
They're easily incorporated into your diet — grinding them is the best way to make the most of their health benefits.
Flax seeds are usually brown or yellow. They're sold whole, ground/milled or roasted — and are often processed into flaxseed oil.
This article tells you everything you need to know about flax seeds.
Flaxseeds have 534 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) — corresponding to 55 calories for each tablespoon (10 grams) of whole seeds.
They consist of 42% fat, 29% carbs and 18% protein.
One tablespoon (10 grams) of whole flax seeds provides the following nutrients (4):
- Calories: 55
- Water: 7%
- Protein: 1.9 grams
- Carbs: 3 grams
- Sugar: 0.2 grams
- Fiber: 2.8 grams
- Fat: 4.3 grams
Carbs and Fiber
Flax seeds are made up of 29% carbs — a whopping 95% of which is fiber.
This means that they're low in net digestible carbs — the number of total carbs minus the amount of fiber — making them a low-carb food.
Two tablespoons (20 grams) of flax seeds provide about 6 grams of fiber. This is roughly 15–25% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for men and women, respectively (5).
- 20–40% soluble fiber (mucilage gums)
- 60–80% insoluble fiber (cellulose and lignin)
When mixed with water, the mucilage gums in flax seeds become very thick. Combined with the insoluble fiber content, this makes flax seeds a natural laxative.
Flax seeds are made up of 18% protein. Their amino acid profile is comparable to soybeans.
Despite containing essential amino acids, they're lacking in the amino acid lysine.
Therefore, they're considered an incomplete protein (11).
Flax seeds contain 42% fat, with 1 tablespoon (10 grams) providing 4.3 grams.
This fat content is composed of (14):
- 73% polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-6 fatty acids and the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- 27% monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids
ALA is an essential fatty acid, which means that your body cannot produce it. Thus, you need to obtain it from the food you eat.
Flaxseed oil contains the highest amount of ALA, followed by milled seeds. Eating the seeds whole provides the least amount of ALA, as the oil is locked up inside the fibrous structure of the seed (16).
Due to their high content of omega-3 fatty acids, flax seeds have a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 than many other oil seeds.
However, flax seeds don't contain as much omega-3 as fish oils.
One type of flax seeds — solin, the yellow variety — is not as nutritious as regular flax seed. It has a very different oil profile and is low in omega-3 fatty acids (22).
Flax seeds are very high in fiber and provide good amounts of protein. They're also rich in fat and one of the best plant-based sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Vitamins and Minerals
Flax seeds are a good source of several vitamins and minerals:
- Thiamine. This B vitamin is also known as vitamin B1. It's essential for normal metabolism and nerve function.
- Copper. An essential mineral, copper is important for growth, development and various bodily functions (23).
- Molybdenum. Flax seeds are rich in molybdenum. This essential trace mineral is abundant in seeds, grains and legumes (24).
- Magnesium. An important mineral that has many functions in your body, magnesium is occurs in high amounts in grains, seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables (25).
- Phosphorus. This mineral is usually found in protein-rich foods and contributes to bone health and tissue maintenance (26).
Flax seeds are a good source of several vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. These include thiamine (vitamin B1), copper, molybdenum, magnesium and phosphorus.
Other Plant Compounds
Flax seeds contain several beneficial plant compounds:
- p-Coumaric acid. This polyphenol is one of the main antioxidants in flax seeds.
- Ferulic acid. This antioxidant may help prevent several chronic diseases (27).
- Cyanogenic glycosides. These substances may form compounds called thiocyanates in your body, which can impair thyroid function in some people.
- Phytosterols. Related to cholesterol, phytosterols are found in the cell membranes of plants. They have been shown to have cholesterol-lowering effects (28).
- Lignans. Lignans are present in almost all plants, acting as both antioxidants and phytoestrogens. Flax seeds are exceptionally rich in lignans, containing up to 800 times more than other foods (29).
Brown flax seeds have slightly higher antioxidant activity than yellow varieties (15).
Flax seeds are one of the richest known dietary sources of lignans. These nutrients function as phytoestrogens (2).
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that are similar to the female sex hormone estrogen. They have weak estrogenic and antioxidant properties (30).
They have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome, as they reduce levels of fat and glucose in your blood.
Flax lignans also help reduce blood pressure, oxidative stress and inflammation in your arteries (31).
Flax seeds are high in several plant compounds, including p-Coumaric acid, ferulic acid, cyanogenic glycosides, phytosterols and lignans. In particular, the last two have been linked to various benefits.
Flax seeds may be useful as a part of a weight loss diet.
They contain soluble fiber, which becomes highly sticky when mixed with water.
A review of controlled studies concluded that flax seeds promote weight loss in overweight and obese people. Those who added the seeds to their diet lost an average of 2.2 pounds (1 kg), compared to the control group (35).
The analysis also showed that weight loss tended to be greater in studies lasting for more than 12 weeks and among those who consumed more than 30 grams of flax seeds per day (35).
Flax seeds contain soluble fiber, which may promote weight loss by reducing hunger and decreasing cravings.
Flax seeds have been associated with major benefits for heart health, mainly attributed to their content of omega-3 fatty acids, lignans and fiber.
High blood cholesterol is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. This is especially true for oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol (36).
Human studies note that daily consumption of flax seeds — or flaxseed oil — may lower cholesterol by 6–11%.
These seeds may be very useful when consumed along with cholesterol-lowering medication.
One 12-month study found that flax seeds caused an additional 8.5% reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol, compared to a control group (45).
This cholesterol-lowering effect is thought to be caused by the high fiber and lignan content in flax seeds.
These substances bind with cholesterol-rich bile acids and carry them down your digestive tract. This reduces cholesterol levels in your body (46).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential. They may have benefits for various aspects of heart health, including blood platelet function, inflammation, and blood pressure.
Flax seeds are very high in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
They have been shown to decrease heart disease risk in animal studies by reducing inflammation in the arteries (47).
Several studies link ALA with a lower risk of stroke, heart attacks, and chronic kidney disease. These studies observed a 73% lower risk of sudden death as well, compared to people with lower ALA intake (48, 49, 50, 51).
In one study, people with heart disease were given 2.9 grams of ALA per day for one year. Those receiving the supplement had significantly lower rates of death and heart attacks than people in the control group (52).
In a 6-month study in people with elevated blood pressure, those consuming 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of flax seeds daily experienced a 10 and 7 mm Hg reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively.
People with a systolic level — the top number in a blood pressure reading — greater than 140 mm Hg at the start of the study observed an even greater reduction of 15 mm Hg (56).
Flax seeds may help fight heart disease by lowering blood pressure, regulating blood cholesterol, and increasing your levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Other Health Benefits of Flax Seeds
Flax seeds have been shown to benefit many aspects of human health.
Diarrhea and constipation cause major distress and may even threaten your health.
About 2–7% of people in the United States experience chronic diarrhea, while recurring constipation affects 12–19% of the population. Constipation rate can be as high as 27% in Europe, with women at twice the risk of men (62, 63).
Soluble fiber is also thought to bind to water in your digestive tract. This causes it to swell and increase the bulk of your stool, preventing diarrhea (65).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 10 adults had diabetes in 2012 (68).
However, not all studies find flax seeds to be effective in regulating blood glucose and insulin levels (71).
Though the link between flax seeds and type 2 diabetes is still unclear, they may be considered a safe and healthy addition to your diet if you have type 2 diabetes (72).
Flax seeds may improve digestion by relieving diarrhea and constipation. They may also reduce fasting blood sugar in people with diabetes and lower your risk of several cancers.
Adverse Effects and Individual Concerns
Dry flax seeds are usually well tolerated, and allergy is rare (82).
Still, it's recommended to drink plenty of water when eating these seeds.
Flax seeds naturally contain plant compounds called cyanogenic glycosides. These substances can bind with sulfur compounds in your body to form thiocyanates.
Excessive amounts of thiocyanates may impair the function of your thyroid gland (83).
Moderate portions are highly unlikely to cause any adverse effects in healthy individuals. However, those with thyroid problems should consider avoiding high amounts of flax seeds (84).
Though the safe upper limit of flaxseed intake has not been determined, one study concluded that 5 tablespoons (50 grams) per day is safe and beneficial for most healthy people (14).
Similar to other seeds, flax seeds contain phytic acid.
Phytic acid is often referred to as an antinutrient, as it may reduce the absorption of minerals like iron and zinc (85).
Still, phytic acid doesn't cause any lasting reduction in mineral absorption and does not affect any subsequent meals.
Therefore, this should not be a major concern — except for people who are deficient in minerals like iron and/or follow an imbalanced diet.
For people who are not used to eating a lot of fiber, incorporating flax seeds too quickly can cause mild digestive problems. These include bloating, gas, abdominal pain and nausea.
It's best to start with small doses and work your way up to 1–2 tablespoons (10–20 grams) daily.
Adding flax seeds to your diet may also increase bowel movement frequency, as flax seeds are a natural laxative.
Risks During Pregnancy
Though human studies are limited, many health professionals fear that consuming flax seeds during pregnancy may have undesirable effects.
This is due to the phytoestrogens in the seeds, which may act similarly to the female sex hormone estrogen.
Animal studies show that flax seeds and flaxseed lignans may cause lower birth weight and affect the development of the offspring's reproductive system — especially if consumed during early pregnancy (86, 87).
It's unlikely that smaller doses of flax seeds will have an adverse effect.
However, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it's recommended to limit your intake of flax seeds and other dietary sources of phytoestrogens. This also includes some soy products.
Large doses of omega-3 fatty acids may have blood-thinning effects (88).
Flax seeds may cause mild digestive issues. They contain plant compounds that may adversely affect some people and are not considered safe for high-dose consumption in early pregnancy.
The Bottom Line
Flax seeds have become popular due to their high content of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and other plant compounds, which are responsible for many of the seeds' benefits.
They may aid weight loss and improve blood sugar control, as well as heart and digestive health.
If you want to boost your health with these tiny powerhouses, you can buy them locally or online.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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