How to Use Flaxseed and Flaxseed Meal

Grind flax into meal to reap its benefits

Flax Seeds and Flax Seed Meal
Flax Seeds and Flax Seed Meal. elaine/E+/Getty Images

Many people are adding flaxseeds and ground flaxseed meal to their diets as flax is gluten-free and low-carb. The flax seed also carries a big nutrient payload. While it’s not technically a grain, it has a similar vitamin and mineral profile to grains and has more fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids than most grains. In addition, it does not contain gluten.

Flaxseed is very low in carbohydrates, making it ideal for people who limit their intake of starches and sugars. Its combination of healthy fat and high fiber content make it a great food for weight loss and maintenance. Some dieters say flaxseed helps keep them feeling satisfied.

Flax, the Seeds, and Flaxseed Meal

Flaxseeds (or linseeds) are the seeds of the flax plant which is used to make linen cloth. Flax was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent region. It was cultivated extensively in ancient Egypt where linen was used in priestly and royal clothing and temple walls had paintings of flowering flax. The Phoenicians traded Egyptian linen throughout the Mediterranean and the Romans used it for their sails.

There are brown and golden varieties of flaxseed and they have similar nutrient composition. Health food stores, specialty stores, and online sources have flaxseed, and most supermarkets stock it. It is sold both in bulk and in packages.

Flaxseed has a pleasantly nutty taste. The whole seeds keep well, but they need to be ground into meal for you to get their full nutritional benefit. A simple spice or coffee grinder can do this in seconds.

Flaxseed Nutrition and Health Benefits

Flaxseed contains high levels of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins, and dietary minerals. Flaxseed is especially rich in thiamine, magnesium, and phosphorus. As a percentage of total fat, flaxseed contains 54 percent omega-3 fatty acids, mostly alpha-linolenic acid, 18 percent omega-9 fatty acids, or oleic acid, and 6 percent omega-6 fatty acids, or linoleic acid.

Consuming flaxseed or its derivatives has been found to reduce total and LDL cholesterol in the blood, with greater benefits for women and those with high cholesterol.

The health benefits include:

  • Flaxseed Is Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are a key force against inflammation in our bodies. Inflammation may be enhanced if you have too little omega-3 intake (found in fish, flax, and walnuts), especially in relation to omega-6 fatty acid intake (found in oils such as soy and corn oil). In the quest to equalize the ratio of these two kinds of oils, flaxseed can be a real help. Most of the oil in flax seeds is alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 that is a precursor to the EPA and DHA fatty acids found in salmon and other fatty cold-water fish. Because not everyone can easily convert ALA into EPA and DHA, it is best not to rely solely on flax for your omega-3 intake. However, ALA also has good effects of its own and definitely helps in the omega-3 and omega-6 balance.
  • Flaxseed is High in Fiber: You’d be hard-pressed to find a food higher in fiber, both soluble and insoluble, than flax. This fiber is probably what is chiefly responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effects of flax. Fiber in the diet also helps stabilize blood sugar and promotes proper functioning of the intestines.
  • Flaxseed is High in Phytochemicals: These include many antioxidants. It is perhaps the best source of lignans which convert in our intestines to substances that tend to balance female hormones.
  • Oil: Note that flaxseed oil lacks the fiber and the phytochemicals of whole flaxseed meal.

Is Flaxseed Meal the Same as Flaxseeds?

You need to grind flaxseed to release its nutrients, and you can find both the whole seeds and ground flaxseed meal for sale. Whole flaxseed stays fresh for up to a year if stored correctly. However, it will go rancid more quickly after being ground up into meal. For this reason, many people choose to buy whole flax seed and grind it into meal themselves using a coffee grinder. If you purchase the meal, follow these guidelines:

  • Purchase from a source where you’re sure there is rapid turnover.
  • Ideally, the meal should be refrigerated at the store.
  • The bag should be opaque as light will accelerate spoiling. The quick rancidity is due to the high-fat content of flax seeds.
  • Vacuum-packed packaging is the best because it prevents the meal from having contact with oxygen before opening.

Buying whole flaxseed eliminates the uncertainty of how long flax meal has been on the shelf. It’s also less expensive this way.

Anytime you taste flax meal that is at all bitter, throw it away as it is going rancid. It should be mildly nutty tasting and not at all harsh.

Grinding Flaxseed Meal

You can buy an inexpensive coffee grinder to make your flaxseed meal. You only need to grind them for five to 10 seconds as they are not as hard as coffee beans. Depending on the capacity of your grinder, you may have to grind multiple batches to get enough flax meal for a recipe.

Storing Flaxseed and Flaxseed Meal

Whole flaxseed should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place like a refrigerator or freezer to be on the safe side. Flax meal should be stored in the freezer and used up within a few weeks. You can keep the flax in the bag it came in or in a zip-type storage bag.

Tips for Using Flaxseed

  • Drink plenty of water. The soluble fiber in flax will soak up water, and if you don't drink enough, constipation may result.
  • Remember to start slowly if you aren’t used to a high-fiber diet.
  • If you purchase the whole seeds, you need to grind them up to get the benefit.
  • Flax is often used as an egg substitute in baked goods. The soluble fiber adds structure to the food.
  • About 2/3 to 3/4 cup of flaxseed yields 1 cup of flax meal.

Flax Recipes and Serving Suggestions

If you're not sure how to start incorporating flaxseed into your diet, try the suggestions below:

Flaxseed Safety and Side Effects

Concerns about flaxseed revolve around four potential issues. However, remember that a lot of research about the wonders of flax show few or no problems from eating it. To the contrary, it has shown many benefits:

  • Big Fiber Load: Since flax has such a high fiber content, it's best to start with a small amount and increase slowly; otherwise, cramping and a laxative effect can result. People with irritable bowel syndrome may have an especially strong reaction to it and should be extra-careful
  • Oxidation/Rancidity: The oil in flax is highly unsaturated. This means that it is very prone to oxidation (rancidity) unless it is stored correctly. The very best way to store it is in nature’s own storage system—within the seed, which will keep for a year. The meal can only be kept fresh for a few months. The oil must be protected by refrigeration in dark containers and preferably be consumed within a few weeks of opening. The oils inside the seeds are quite stable when the seeds are used in baked foods. Researchers theorize that this is due to the high levels of antioxidants in the seeds.
  • Hormonal Effects: Lignans contain phytoestrogens. Although research has shown them to be beneficial so far, it is unknown what effects high doses of phytoestrogens might have.
  • Cyanide: Like many other foods (cashews, some beans, and others), flax contains very small amounts of cyanide compounds, especially when raw. Heat, especially on dry flax seeds, breaks these compounds down. However, our bodies have the capacity to neutralize a certain amount of these compounds. U.S. government agencies say that 2 tablespoons of flaxseed (about 3 tablespoons of flax meal) per day are safe. That is probably an effective dose for health purposes. Various researchers who have used up to 6 daily tablespoons of the seed in different studies indicate that the amount they were using was safe.

A Word From Verywell

Flaxseeds and flaxseed meal are excellent sources of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids and can be used on a low-carb and gluten-free diet. Whether you grind it yourself or buy it ground flaxseed meal, explore new recipes and ways to use this healthy ingredient.

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