Flaxseeds can be a healthful addition to the diet and might help with weight loss. However, they may not be suitable for everyone.
People cultivate flax for food and fiber, using its fibers for linens, its oils for wood finishing, and its seeds for food and nutrition. It is also commonly known as linseed.
Flaxseeds have beneficial health effects, but some safety concerns surround them. Read on to find out what the research says, how to use them, and who should not take them.
Research suggests that the bacteria in a person’s gut (the microbiome) interact with compounds that are present in many plant foods and may positively influence health and weight. Flaxseed contains some of these beneficial compounds, including:
- omega-3 fatty acids
Flaxseed oil is a rich source (40–60%) of alpha-linolenic acid. The body converts this essential polyunsaturated fatty acid to omega-3 fatty acids that are anti-inflammatory and may help weight management.
One small study indicated that flaxseed fiber could suppress appetite and make people feel fuller and more satisfied. Research also suggests that whole flaxseed improves glycemic control, helping balance blood sugar and insulin levels. Both of these effects may help with weight management.
Overall, therefore, the research on flaxseed — although limited — suggests that it might help people lose weight.
People can consume flaxseed in several different ways, including:
- Grinding the whole seeds in a coffee grinder, which makes them easier to digest and releases the active oils. Storing the ground seeds in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer will prevent them from turning rancid.
- Sprouting the seeds to increase their nutrients and adding them to a salad or sandwich. Learn how to sprout flaxseeds here.
- Using it in the form of a ready-made oil. These are available in health food stores or online.
- Taking it in supplement form as tablets or capsules.
People can buy brown or golden whole flaxseeds, which are nutritionally similar. However, golden seeds have better omega-3 content, while brown seeds have a higher antioxidant content, according to research.
Ground flaxseed makes a good addition to breakfast cereals, smoothies, or baked products. People can include flaxseed oil in salad dressings.
Flaxseeds contain antinutrients that may have an adverse effect on health. These include cyanogenic glycosides, which are higher in unripe seeds and can negatively affect the thyroid gland.
People can reduce some of these antinutrients by soaking or sprouting the seeds. However, flaxseed may not be suitable for people with certain health issues.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health say that flaxseed seems to be well-tolerated in limited amounts, with few reported side effects. However, they advise the following safety precautions:
- Avoid eating raw or unripe flaxseeds, which may contain potentially toxic compounds.
- Do not consume flaxseed when pregnant or breastfeeding, as it may have mild hormonal effects, and there is little reliable information about its safety in these situations.
- Drink plenty of water when taking flaxseed to avoid intestinal blockage.
A person who is taking medication (particularly for diabetes, blood clotting, or thyroid conditions) should check with their doctor before taking flaxseed.
People sometimes use flaxseed and its oil for other conditions, including:
However, people should bear in mind that the scientific research behind these uses may be limited or inconclusive.
There are many remedies and foods that people claim can help weight loss. A person should do their own research and always speak to a doctor if they are on medication and want to try a new remedy.
Some popular foods and remedies that might help a person lose weight include:
- green coffee extract
- green tea
- aloe vera
- apple cider vinegar
- coconut oil
- parsley juice
However, in most cases, the best approach is to adopt a healthful, balanced diet and engage in regular exercise.
Some research suggests that flaxseed might help weight loss. The mechanism behind this could be its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, as well as its rich omega-3 content.
Including flaxseed in the diet as a food supplement may help improve bowel regularity and blood sugar control. It might also have other healthful effects.
However, flaxseed contains antinutrients that could have adverse effects in people who have certain health conditions or are taking medication.
People who are safe to take flaxseed might be better soaking or sprouting it to ensure that it does not interfere with mineral absorption.