(NaturalNews) Flax, also called linseed, is a flowering plant native to the temperate and subtropical regions of the world. It is one of mankind's oldest cultivated crops, and its bast fibers are commonly used to produce the soft and natural textile linen, from which a large number of environmentally friendly garments are made. The seeds of the plant, though usually processed to make linseed oil, are also nutritious foods in their own right and produce many health benefits.
World's best natural source of lignans
Flaxseeds are the best natural source of lignans, which are unique polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-estrogenic properties. In fact, according to The World's Healthiest Foods website, flaxseeds contain seven times more lignans than sesame seeds (the runner up), 338 times more lignans than sunflower seeds, 475 more lignans than cashew nuts and an estimated 3,200 times more lignans than peanuts! (1) Regular consumption of lignan-rich foods has been linked to improved prostate and ovarian health, hormone rebalancing (a huge plus in today's world of gender-bending chemicals), a reduced risk of heart disease and even hair regrowth. The antioxidant properties of lignans also provide protection from serious degenerative diseases like cancer. (2)
Bursting with alpha-linolenic acid
Flaxseeds are also a fantastic source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants that the body uses as "raw material" to synthesize the other two omega-3 acids, DHA and EPA. This process allows the body to create enough omega-3 oils to balance the inflammatory omega-6 and -9 oils that are so common in modern diets. For this reason, ground flaxseeds are the perfect "pure" omega-3 supplement and are better sources of it than fish oil (which supplies us with DHA and EPA "as is," and doesn't give the body the opportunity to optimize their omega-3 acid balance). (3)
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids with cholesterol-lowering properties. These fats are also highly concentrated in the brain and are important for maintaining cognitive function (particularly that relating to memory and performance).
Rich in soluble fiber and essential minerals
Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed contains almost 4 grams of fiber, or 16 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI). Most of this fiber is soluble fiber, which forms a gel in the stomach and promotes a feeling a fullness, thus discouraging overeating. (4) Therefore, the next time you're feeling hungry in between meals or are simply looking to lose weight, eat some ground flaxseeds as a snack.
Two tablespoons of flaxseed also contains between 1 and 18 percent of the RDI of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium, as well as 6 percent of the RDI of protein. This is good news for vegetarians and other people who avoid animal products. (5)
Flaxseeds are best eaten grounded as a snack (whole flaxseeds are notoriously difficult to digest). However, they tolerate heat well -- unlike flaxseed oil, which oxidizes easily -- and can be incorporated into baked goods, cereals and much more. Like chia seeds, they tend to have a neutral taste and can be added to almost anything without compromising its flavor.
About the author: Michael Ravensthorpe is an independent writer whose research interests include nutrition, alternative medicine, and bushcraft. He is the creator of the website, Spiritfoods, through which he promotes the world's healthiest foods.