Flaxseed is the seed from the common flax or linseed plant, and it is commonly sold as a health food. The advantages of eating whole flaxseed are that it is the most nutritious of all forms of flaxseed and that it keeps longer than any other flaxseed type. The disadvantages are that it passes through the body mostly undigested, and the body can’t process the nutrients. Most nutrition experts recommend buying it whole and grinding the seeds immediately before use.
Whole flaxseed is extremely healthy because it contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber and lignan. The omega-3 fatty acids help the body balance hormone production, which lowers the risk of some types of cancer, including breast, colon and prostate cancer. The high fiber content fights constipation and promotes health throughout the digestive tract.
Fiber makes people feel full longer, so whole flaxseed can help control weight. Lignan is a phytoestrogen, a natural plant hormone that acts like human estrogen. It can help ease symptoms of menopause and even pre-menstrual syndrome, in addition to possibly lowering the risk of cancer. Flaxseed also lowers cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
Another advantage of eating whole flaxseed is that it has more nutrients than any other flaxseed type. Ground flaxseed begins to lose nutrients as soon as it is ground, because of oxidation. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container for about a week, but it is not as nutritious as whole flaxseed.
Milled flaxseed can last for a few months, because it is ground with as little oxygen exposure as possible. Flaxseed oil is very convenient and can be found in many health stores. One drawback is that flaxseed oil loses many health benefits because it does not contain any fiber. In addition, the oil spoils quickly. Whole flaxseed, on the other hand, can keep for months or even years, without going bad, because of its protective shell.
The main disadvantage is that the human body has a very difficult time digesting flaxseed whole because of that protective shell; instead, it tends to pass through the body with its nutrients, and its shell, intact. In order to get the most nutrients out of flaxseed, experts suggest grinding just enough for that day. That way, the body can digest the seeds, but they don’t have time to lose many nutrients. The easiest way for a person to grind whole flaxseed at home is with a small coffee grinder, food processor or spice grinder.