The health benefits of flaxseed are many. It is a great source of essential fatty acids, especially for vegetarians. The oil derived from the actual seed has a rich concentration of the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. Flaxseed is also a fantastic source of lignans and fiber.
Most Westernized diets contain too many omega-6 fats and too few omega-3 fats, but omega-3s benefit our health in a variety of ways. Ideally our dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be 4:1 however, with the abundance of vegetable oils, margarines, and processed and convenience foods available, our fatty acid ratio is probably closer to an unhealthy 30:1. Flax provides us with a rich source of omega-3, aiding in rebalancing this ratio and therefore helping in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer, as well as in beautifying us through improved skin, hair, and nails.
Lignans are phytoestrogenic compounds that help to modulate estrogen hormone levels in both men and women. Lignans are found in all unrefined cereal grains, plants, and legumes. In clinical trials flax has been shown to help in reducing hot flashes in menopausal women, help in the prevention of breast cancer, and even have possible benefits in prostate cancer treatment.
Today most Americans are only meeting one-third to one-half of the daily recommended level of dietary fiber. The average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber per day, when ideally we need about 35 to 40 grams. Studies show that soluble fiber helps to lower total blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar while the insoluble fiber improves regularity. Just one tablespoon of ground flaxseed provides a minimum of 2 grams of dietary fiber, which makes a healthy contribution to our overall fiber intake.
To increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, flax oil and softgel capsules are the richest source, although these forms are void of lignans and fiber. To get the fiber and lignans, use ground or milled flaxseed added to soups, salads, cereals, smoothies, etc.
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