At first glance, flaxseeds are pretty unassuming. The brown, slightly shiny seeds are tiny—less than 1/4 of an inch long—and have a neutral, slightly nutty flavor.
They aren't exactly screaming 'eat me,' but if you care about your health, that's just what you should be doing.
What's all the fuss about? The seeds, which are sometimes called lindseeds, are a great source of dietary fiber, manganese, vitamin B1, and the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, also known as ALA. These fatty acids are considered "good fats" that are beneficial for the heart. Flaxseeds are also full of lignans, an estrogen-like chemical compound with antioxidant qualities.
Flaxseeds aren't just rich in nutrients — they're rich in history. Flax has been cultivated for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Egypt and early China. King Charlemagne was such a big flaxseed fan that he passed a law requiring all his subjects to eat flaxseeds in the 8th century.
Since flax has become popular as a health food, emerging research has begun to suggest medical uses for the little seed. Some evidence suggests that flaxseeds can also help lower the risk and decrease the severity of cancer, combat diabetes, and boost heart health.
Other studies have indicated that flaxseeds may also protect skin tissue from radiation. A study published in the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology suggested that dietary intake of flaxseed can decrease the frequency of hot flashes among postmenopausal women.
To reap the most benefits from flax seeds, eat the seeds ground. Whole flaxseed can sometimes pass through the digestive tract undigested. Flaxseed oil (often labeled as linseed oil) is also a great choice to get the most out of your flax consumption.
Photo credit: Veganbaking.net via Flickr