What are Flax Seeds?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Flax seeds are the seeds of an annual plant that has been cultivated for thousands of years for textile fiber and nutrition. The seeds and extracts, such as oil, were eaten by a variety of peoples in the ancient world, and came back into fashion in the late 20th century. Flax seeds are considered by many to be healthy and flavorful, and can be found in most health food stores as well as some supermarkets.

A field of blooming flax plants.
A field of blooming flax plants.

The flax plant grows between 20 and 40 inches (50 and 100 centimeters) in height. The plant has a green stalk that terminates in blue to purple flowers. Flax fiber is extracted from the stalk, which is beaten to loosen it, allowing it to be spun and woven. Flax fiber is strong, durable, and can be woven into very fine fabrics. Seeds come from the flowers of the plant, and can be found whole, pressed into flax oil, or ground into meal for baking.

A loaf of breed made with flax seeds.
A loaf of breed made with flax seeds.

Flax seeds contain a large amount of a nutritious polyunsaturated oil. This healthy oil is high in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, both of which reduce the risk of coronary disease and cancer. The fatty acids also raise the levels of good cholesterol while lowering high blood pressure. The seeds contain an omega 6 fatty acid known as linoleic acid, which is considered to be a very important component of human health and wellness. In addition, they are high in dietary fiber, which promotes good digestion.

Flax seeds.
Flax seeds.

For vegetarians, flax seeds are an excellent dietary supplement. They are a plant based source of omega acids and contain several other essential nutrients such as vitamin B6, magnesium, and folate. The seeds also contain a small amount of protein, which can supplement the vegetarian diet. Non-vegetarians can also benefit from them because they are a concentrated and healthy nutritional supplement.

Most health food stores carry flax seeds.
Most health food stores carry flax seeds.

Like many other healthy fats, flax seed oil is very fragile. It is usually found refrigerated in the store and should be kept refrigerated and used quickly at home. Although this oil is not suited to cooking, it can be used in dressings or sprinkled directly onto food. The seeds themselves can be toasted and added to salads, added to baked goods, eaten straight, or enjoyed in a variety of other culinary settings. The seeds and oil have a nutty, rich flavor that many consumers find quite enjoyable.

Flax seed oil is high in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Flax seed oil is high in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon163644

Chia seeds are much healthier than flax seeds and do not go rancid. Also, gram per gram, there is more fiber, protein omega 3's and antioxidants than flax. The best chia seeds are called Mila.

elfi64

Whether it is organic flax seeds, or not, having a tablespoon or so a day is good for general health.

Having some ground flax seeds in the morning sprinkled over the oatmeal is a great day starter.

anon121081

Every time before I get my period, I always get menstrual cramps and headache. After I take flax seeds with soy milk every day, I no longer have it. that's amazing. I can't believe it, but that's true.

justyna

important!

flax seeds are very beneficial to diet and lowering cholesterol levels, however since their nutrients is beneath their shell and they are very small, flax seeds should be ground before consuming in order to reap the benefits and maximize absorption.

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