Flaxseeds, or linseeds, are tiny seeds that have been used for cooking over thousands of years. As the food we eat becomes more and more processed there is very little flax found in our diets so we are missing out on some important flaxseed benefits that are found in very few other types of food. Recent studies have shown that these benefits include a drop in cholesterol levels and, even more important, a significant drop in bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. This is on top of other benefits, including protection against cancer.
There are three components of flaxseeds that make them so beneficial for your health – a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), high levels of soluble fiber and lignan. Each of these help fight cholesterol.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In recent years omega-3’s have become popular as tool to help fight heart disease. Not only has an increase in omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, mainly through the consumption of fish and nuts, been pushed but fish oil pills are becoming a very popular supplement. However, it is important to note that there are actually two different types of omega-3 fatty acids. The type found in fish is different than the type found in flaxseeds. Many of the studies looking at how omega-3’s improve heart health have used the kind that are found in fish (long-chain omega-3 fatty acids). However, since these types of omega-3’s are very similar to the type found in flaxseeds (short-chain omega-3 fatty acids), most experts agree that the findings from the studies can relate to all types.
Researchers have found that soluble fiber can affect the composition of VLDL (very low density lipoprotein), which is a precursor of LDL (low density lipoprotein), the “bad” cholesterol. It interacts with VLDL so that it carries less cholesterol. Fiber also soaks up bile acids while being digested and carries them out of the body was a waste product. When the liver notices that there is a need for more bile acid it uses LDL cholesterol to build more. This reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood.
This ingredient in flaxseeds may be the leading reason for why they have such a great cholesterol lowering effect on the body. In a 1999 study researchers discovered that rabbits that were fed a diet high in lignan reduced their LDL cholesterol levels by 35% while also reducing the amount of plaque in their arteries by 73%. It is believed that lignan causes these plaque-fighting and cholesterol reducing effects by having strong antioxidant properties. It prevents LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, which helps prevent atherosclerosis.
How to add more flaxseed to your diet
It is recommended that to get the full cholesterol fighting ability of flaxseeds you should consume two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds daily. Of course, you are not going to just ground up some flaxseeds and eat it plain. So, what are some options to incorporate this into your diet?
First of all, it is important to note that you consider adding whole flaxseeds (ground up is the best way to do this) to your diet instead of considering flaxseed oil. The oil from flaxseeds does have some of the benefits we have discussed above and it is a GREAT alternative that you should try to use instead of other vegetable oils and salad dressings, but flax oil does not contain lignan. It is thought that the lignan found in flax is the most beneficial ingredient so you do not wan to miss out on what could be a very promising chance to reduce cholesterol.
To prevent ground flaxseed from spoiling it is best to purchase whole flaxseeds and then grinding it yourself whenever it is needed. If you do store ground flaxseed it should be stored in an airtight container within the refrigerator.
Here are the top ways to easily add ground flaxseed to your diet:
- Make some muffins. There are hundreds of recipes online. Here is just one of them – Bran Flax Muffins.
- Add it to your pancake mix.
- Sprinkle it on some yogurt.
- Mix it in to a shake or smoothie.
- Make a porridge out of flaxseed meal (just add boiling water to flaxseed meal) and then add in ingredients such as fruit, cheese, nuts, sugar-free jams or syrups.
- Incorporate it within some soup.
- Sprinkle it on top of your morning cereal.
One other important thing to note regarding flaxseed is that since it is high in fiber you should be aware that it can cause intestinal issues, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. If you are not already regularly adding a lot of fiber to your diet slowly increase the amount of flaxseed you add to your diet. Do not start with two tablespoons per day right away. Also, drink a lot of water when you eat flaxseed. This will help with digestion.
Since flaxseed benefits now include a possible reduction of LDL cholesterol, make it a goal to incorporate at least 2 tablespoons within your diet every day. This is just one more step to help you control your bad cholesterol levels.