Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Flaxseed is one of the oldest crops, having been cultivated since the beginning of civilization (Laux 2011). The Latin name of the flaxseed is Linum usitatissimum, which means “very useful”. Flax was first introduced in United States by colonists, primarily to produce fiber for clothing (Laux 2011). Every part of the flaxseed plant is utilized commercially, either directly or after processing. The stem yields good quality fibers having high strength and durability (Singh et al. 2011). Flax has been used until 1990s principally for the fabrication of cloths (linen) and papers, while flaxseed oil and its sub-products are used in animal feed formulation (Singh et al. 2011).
Producers grow two types of flax: seed flax for the oil in its seed and fiber flax for the fiber in its stem. Today producers in the upper Midwest and the Prairie Provinces of Canada grow seed flax. North Dakota is the leading producer of flax for oil and food use in the United States. Flax seed is crushed to produce linseed oil and linseed meal. Linseed oil has many industrial uses; linseed meal is used for livestock feed. The fiber in seed flax stems is used to make fine paper and as tow or padding in upholstered furniture. Cigarette paper is a major flax paper product. There is a small difference in using the terms flaxseed and linseed.
Flaxseed is used to describe flax when consumed as food by humans while linseed is used to describe flax when it is used in the industry and feed purpose (Morris 2008). In the last two decades, flaxseed has been the focus of increased interest in the field of diet and disease research due to the potential health benefits associated with some of its biologically active components.
Flaxseeds have nutritional characteristics and are rich source of ω-3 fatty acid: α-linolenic acid (ALA), short chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), soluble and insoluble fibers, phytoestrogenic lignans (secoisolariciresinol diglycoside-SDG), proteins and an array of antioxidants (Ivanova et al. 2011; Singh et al. 2011; Oomah 2001; Alhassane and Xu 2010).
Its growing popularity is due to health imparting benefits in reducing cardiovascular diseases, decreased risk of cancer, particularly of the mammary and prostate gland, anti-inflammatory activity, laxative effect, and alleviation of menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.
A Special Note About Fiber ...
There are two types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble. Dietary fiber plays an important role in digestion and maintaining the health of your gastrointestinal tract. It is crucial to maintain a healthy balance of fiber in your diet.
Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion. Once in gel form, it slows digestion and softens stool, which helps to prevent diarrhea and constipation. It can also work to lower blood sugar and bad cholesterol levels in the body.
Examples: split peas, artichoke, broccoli, avocado, oatmeal, raspberries
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and appears to help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. People who suffer from constipation or irregular bowel movements may want to increase their intake of insoluble fiber.
Examples: corn, cabbage, wheat bran, onion, apple skin
Note: Some foods – such as grains, beans and some vegetables – contain a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber
Now back to Flaxseeds ...
Flaxseed (also called linseed) is a powerful soluble fiber that can greatly improve the function and health of the gastrointestinal system.
Adding flaxseed to your favorite foods
Sprinkling milled flaxseed into your meals is a great way of getting a quick and easy fiber boost in your diet. Flaxseed is high in Fiber, providing 7.11g of Fiber per 30g serving.
How dos flaxseed (linseed) help the bowel?
Though maintaining a healthy balanced diet and exercising regularly is important for long-term improvements of your bowel movements, sometimes a kick-start is needed to get your bowel into action. Laxatives are normally the answer to this, though conventional laxatives can drain your body of essential nutrients if used long-term. For this reason, it can be sensible to make dietary improvements prior to trying laxatives.
There are two main types of laxatives, those that stimulate the digestive system, such as senna or frangula, which cause the muscles in the bowel to contract, and those which add bulk to the stool making them softer and easier to pass. Linseed is the latter type of laxative when taken alongside an increased fluid intake.
How to eat flaxseed (linseed)
Many people, excited by the variety of health benefits of linseed, rush to buy them, then get home and wonder what to do with them. Linseed has a pleasant nutty flavor that can easily be incorporated into many dishes.
Firstly, they can be sprinkled over foods, either in their whole or ground form, which can help give added texture and taste to dishes.
Nice options to try out include:
• Oat groats, muesli, or porridge
Next, these versatile little seeds can be mixed through a whole variety of dishes so that
you’ll barely even notice they are there! (Yet you will still reap the benefits of course), why not try them in:
• Home baking such as in bread recipes
Top tip: Soaking linseed is a good option if being used to help improve bowel function. Linseed can absorb up to ten times its volume in water, meaning that if you soak them before eating them, they will quickly soften your stool, making it easier to pass. Try soaking linseeds overnight before then using them.
Linseeds/Flaxseed and Blood Glucose Levels
Historically, flaxseed has been used primarily for reducing constipation. This amazing little seed, however, has much more power than that! Flaxseed is rich in soluble fiber that when mixed with water forms a gummy material called mucilage in the gastrointestinal tract. This mucilage expands, helping to clean out little pockets found throughout the GI tract. This cleansing adds bulk to bowel movements, mitigating the symptoms caused by constipation as well as diarrhea. Foods high in soluble fiber (like flax!) help keep our ‘hunger’ at bay by giving us that ‘full’ feeling. Flaxseed also contains oil that is rich in the beneficial omega-3 fatty acid, which promotes heart health. This oil has also been shown to help reduce blood glucose levels when consumed on a regular basis.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Glucose is an important fuel source for your body – it could be said it is our only fuel source! Our human brain functions exclusively on glucose, making it a vital component of our daily nutrition. The pancreas closely monitors blood sugar levels and endeavors to keep levels within a normal range. Blood glucose levels are at their highest after you eat when your body is actively digesting your meal. Blood glucose levels are at their lowest during fasting hours just before you eat the first meal of the day. Regular consumption of flaxseed can help in regulate your blood glucose levels.