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Flax is all the rage right now. Despite being consumed by humans for over 6,000 years, flax continues to get a lot of buzz and we’re still learning about this amazing seed. This tiny seed from the flax plant comes in two colors, reddish brown or golden brown, both with the same nutritional value. Growing up near North Dakota, my great-uncle grew both in the same field alternating rows, so the blooms would be purple and white.

Flaxseed is available in most supermarkets and health food stores and can be found in crackers, tortilla chips, breakfast cereals, granola and breads. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily will give you many nutritional benefits.

Most of the nutritional benefits of flaxseeds come from three main components: phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.

Flaxseed contains up to 800 times the phytochemicals commonly found in other oil seeds. These phytochemicals benefit to your health in many ways. They provide an antioxidant and a plant hormone which can be extremely powerful in fighting plaque build-up in arteries, reducing LDL cholesterol and preventing blood platelets from clumping together — reducing your risk for heart attack.

The phytochemicals can lower risk of some hormone-related cancers and increase brain function, similar to estrogen replacement therapy. When added to the diet, flaxseed has been shown to reduce blood pressure from seven to 10 points in just six months. The phytochemicals in flaxseed are known as an antiviral and antibacterial, supporting growth of probiotics in the gut.

The omega-3 fats in flaxseeds help to fight inflammation and protect against inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Two tablespoons of flaxseed provides about 3½ grams of omega-3, which exceeds the amount recommended by the National Institutes of Health. We have known of the benefits of omega-3 in fish oils, but flaxseed provides a plant-based source.

Flaxseed contains both soluble fiber, which works like a sponge to absorb cholesterol so your body can eliminate it, and insoluble fiber, which helps to clean out your digestive tract. This can benefit those with digestive issues, heart disease and diabetes. It promotes gut health and protects the lining of the digestive tract. It also adds bulk to the stool and is considered one of the best natural remedies for constipation. Certainly, the bulk of the fiber helps you feel full longer.

Flaxseed is available in several forms: whole seed, ground seed or oil. Seeds have the benefit of the fiber and essential fatty acids, and are a plant-based protein. It is best to grind or sprout the seeds for best absorption. If the seeds are eaten whole they will often pass through the digestive tract undigested, without the benefit of the omega-3 fats. Sprout by simply soaking the seeds in warm water for 10 minutes or cold water for two hours. Flaxseed can also be purchased ground or can be ground in a coffee grinder and used immediately. Whole seeds can be stored for 10-12 months, while ground flax has a shelf life of four months. The recommended daily amount is one to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed or one teaspoon flax oil, best used cold.

Here are some ways to add flaxseed to your healthy eating plan:

  • Stir into oatmeal, tomato juice or your favorite salad dressing
  • Mix into tuna, chicken or egg salads
  • Mix one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with three tablespoons water as a substitute for one egg in a recipe
  • Sprinkle on salads, yogurt or cereal
  • Use in your favorite meatloaf, muffin, cookie or bread recipe
  • Coat fish or chicken in flaxseed and bake
  • Mix with honey and spread on toast to replace butter
  • Add to your morning smoothie

Try these tasty muffin and oatmeal recipes to enjoy some flaxseed and its nutritional benefits.

Homemade instant oatmeal

Makes: 26 servings (½ cup each)


  • 6½ cups quick oats
  • 3¼ cups old-fashioned oats
  • 2½ cups non-fat dry milk
  • ¼ cup flaxseed
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • ⅔ cup wheat germ


Mix together all dry ingredients. Store in air-tight container. Keeps for three months.

To make the oatmeal, put ½ cup of mix in breakfast bowl. Add ½ cup of water and cook on high in microwave for one minute and 30 seconds.

Optional: Add one tablespoon pecans and one tablespoon raisins.

Nutrition analysis: Per serving: 160 calories, 3 g fat, 7 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 35 mg sodium

Bran flax muffins

Makes: 18 servings


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup ground flaxseed
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 apples, shredded
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • 1½ cups carrots, shredded
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup Fiber One
  • ¾ cup skim milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together flours, ground flaxseed, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir in apples, raisins, nuts and carrots. In a separate bowl, pour milk over Fiber One cereal and let stand for one minute to soften. Add beaten eggs and vanilla to milk mixture. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix. Fill muffin cups ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Nutrition analysis: Per serving: 156 calories, 5 g fat, 4 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 157 mg sodium.

Nancy Ernst, RD, CDE, is a Gundersen Health System registered dietitian.


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