Flaxseeds are tiny brown or gold seeds packed with a range of nutrients. They are also known as linseeds and are a valuable plant-based source of protein, fibre and essential fatty acids. You’ve probably seen them in your local health food store or supermarket – they come as whole seeds and as ground meal. Flaxseeds have a pleasant, subtle, nutty taste that allows them to easily be added to recipes without spoiling the taste. A typical daily serving is roughly 1 tablespoon of either whole seeds or ground meal.
There are three ‘superstar’ nutrients found in flaxseeds that contribute to their overall health benefits:
- Fibre – both soluble and insoluble to keep us feeling full and our digestive systems healthy
- Alpha-linolenic acid – an essential fatty acid that our bodies do not produce, important for healthy skin, hair and nails
- Lignans – plant compounds with antioxidant activity
Have you wondered if there is any advantage of consuming whole flaxseeds versus ground flax meal? This blog will go through the benefits of consuming flaxseeds either way, plus some tips on how you can easily include them into your diet.
Whole flaxseeds are a source of insoluble fibre – this means they help add bulk to the stool which in turn assists with regular bowel movements. As whole seeds, they act as ‘roughage’ and help food and waste travel more quickly through the stomach and intestines.
To help with the breakdown of the food we eat, we have saliva, teeth and stomach acid that help unlock the nutrients from our food to then be used by our body cells. Due to their very hard seed coat or hull, whole flaxseeds tend to bypass our digestive processes and travel as whole seeds right until we poop them out! While this is great in helping our digestive processes as mentioned above, it doesn’t allow us to reap the essential fatty acid or lignan benefits as these compounds are located in the inner part of the flaxseed.
Some ways to consume whole flaxseeds include:
- Add whole flaxseeds to your favourite breakfast cereal or trail mix
- Sprinkle some whole flaxseeds over yoghurt
- Add them to baked goods like banana bread and muffins
While a lot of us enjoy the crunch of whole flaxseeds, the versatility of ground flaxseeds in recipes make them a popular choice. Ground flaxseeds or flax meal is thought to be more easily digested than whole flaxseeds. This is because their hard seed coat has been broken down, unlocking the essential fatty acids and lignan content for our cells to use up.
Ground flaxseeds are a source of both insoluble and soluble fibre. We already know that the seed coat provides us with insoluble fibre, but as ground meal, they turn into a gel-like substance when digested and help to attract water to stools, softening them and making them easier to pass.
Here are some ways to consume ground flaxseeds:
- Mix 1 tbsp. of ground flaxseeds with 2 tbsp. of water, let set for a few minutes and voila – you have a vegan egg substitute
- Add ground flax to smoothies to give them a delicious, thick shake-like texture
- Sprinkle them in yoghurt or over your favourite breakfast cereal
- Add some to your baked goods, like cakes and muffins
- Use the ground meal to replace breadcrumbs in your burger patties or try rolling your favourite bliss balls into ground flax instead of desiccated coconut
Whether they are consumed whole or ground, flaxseeds provide us with a range of nutrients that support our overall health and wellbeing. Perhaps you can try adding a mix of both whole and ground flaxseeds into your diet for the different textures and health benefits they offer!
- Shoemaker, S. (2019), What’s the best way to grind flax seeds?, HealthLine, cited on 16.4.2020, accessed from <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-grind-flaxseeds>
- Zeratsky, K. (2019), Does ground flaxseed have more health benefits than whole flaxseed? Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Mayo Clinic, cited on 15.4.2020, accessed from <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/flaxseed/faq-20058354>