The Flaxseed Challenge:Which Type is Best?
Reaping the health benefits of flaxseeds is complicated, well kind of. Whether oil, ground, or milled, there is no right or wrong way to take it. Because there are so many options, you don’t have to limit how you use it in your diet. We compare the effects of different types of flaxseed to help you make an informed decision about consuming this low carb, high fiber, and healthy fat food.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid - ALA
Among the many health benefits credited to flaxseeds, the spotlight generally goes to its richness in Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly alpha linolenic acid (ALA) which has an anti-inflammatory effect. A study investigating the absorption of ALA from whole flaxseed, milled flaxseed, and flaxseed oil found varying levels in the blood plasma of participants over a 3-month period. In the first month, both the milled flaxseed and flaxseed oil groups had significantly higher ALA levels, with flaxseed oil showing higher levels than milled. The whole flaxseed group did not show increased plasma levels of ALA. All groups reported gastrointestinal discomfort, but the milled flaxseed group fared best - none of the group’s participants withdrew as was the case with the whole seed and oil group. This small study seems to suggest that milled flaxseed may be best at delivering elevated ALA levels. A separate study says, “Presently, the weight of the evidence favors recommendations for modest dietary consumption of ALA (2 to 3 g per day) for the primary and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease.”
Dietary Fiber from Flaxseed
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) puts an adequate intake (AI) of total fiber to between 25 and 35 grams of fiber per day. Because dietary fiber has been linked to a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, getting more than the average American, just 14 grams per day, is a worthy endeavor. Flaxseed fiber is known to have different effects depending on if it’s in drink or bread form. A study in the February issue of Nutrition and Metabolism found no difference between sensations of fullness between subjects, but the study revealed flax fiber in drink form was more effective at lowering cholesterol than bread form, while flax fiber in bread increased fat excretion by a higher rate than the flax drink. The results of the study were based on a daily intake of 5g of fiber from flaxseeds.
Staying Full with Flaxseed: Pills vs. Drinks
Flaxseed has a large portion of viscous fibers, which are known to create a sensation of fullness. Another trial studying the satiating effects of flaxseed fiber found that fiber added into a drink was more satisfying than flaxseed pills. The study, which gave 2.5 grams of soluble fibers to a small group of men and women after an overnight fast found those who took the flax drink consumed approximately 300 calories less than the control group, while those who took flaxseed fiber pills had similar results. That said, both forms of flaxseed fiber were shown to suppress appetite and energy intake in subsequent meals.
Bottom Line: Go for It
Aside from initial gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas and bloating, adding flaxseed into your diet is safe. In addition to the studies mentioned above, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gives flaxseed a “possible effective” rating for its ability to lower cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol, improve kidney function, and relieve mild menopausal symptoms. In addition to its known health benefits, the fiber and healthy fat flaxseeds add to your diet, without a significant amount of calories I might add, may be worth a try.
How do you take flaxseed and what changes have you experienced after adding it to your diet?