Flax Seed Health Benefits

Flax Seed: 12 Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts and Risk

Flax seed is exactly that: the seed of the domesticated forms of the pale flax plant. Flaxseed has been popular in recent years for many reasons, primarily related to its ability to provide individuals on a plant-based diet with a relatively large quantity of Omega-3 fatty acids. Flax seed is also incorporated into a wide variety of foods and food-stuffs due to the perceived health benefits and the versatility of both the seed and the oil to be included in other forms of carbohydrate products. It is also a form of chicken feed and is associated with high-quality chicken and eggs, meaning that there is clearly some importance in the quality of nutrients that flax contains.

In this article, we will discuss the health benefits and interesting nutritional facts that surround flax seed, discussing the current popular myths and hype surrounding the product. We will be using the USDA’s official statistics on flax seed [1].

Health Benefits of Flax Seed

Flax Seeds

1. Fiber

Flax seed is incredibly high in both soluble and insoluble fiber – an essential human nutrient and incredibly important for digestive, blood sugar and metabolic health regulation [2]. Fiber reduces the absorption of sugars into the blood stream, regulating blood sugar and the associated insulin-response, making flax seed an excellent food to be used as part of a responsible, low-carbohydrate diet for those who are struggling with Type-2 diabetes. Flax can also be ground into flaxmeal and used as a lower-GI (glycaemic index – a measure of the absorption rate of a food) alternative to traditional wheat and corn flours.

2. Cardiovascular Health

The consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with the improvement of heart health through a variety of methods. Firstly, the reduction in LDL (“bad”) cholesterols and the improvement of HDL levels (“good” cholesterol) is associated with reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease – the phytosterols found in flax seeds compound this effect [3]. In addition to this, there are some signs that Omega-3 consumption also lowers the levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream and improves heart health further.

It is important to note, however, that the consumption of Flax seed only provides ALA – a form of Omega-3 that is less beneficial than long-chain oils found in fish and other animal products. When we look at the uses of flax seed and its constituent nutrients, it is important to remember that this form can only be converted into longer-chain Omega-3 acids at around 5-15%. This means that, whist flax seed are a great source of ALA Omega-3 acids, they should not be the only source.

3. Reduced Cancer Risks

The Lignans found in Flax seeds are incredibly helpful in the reduction of breast, uteral and prostate cancers. The reason for this is that Lignans are phytoestrogens: plant compounds that are effective at mimicking oestrogen in the body or having a role in its production/replacement. The increased oestrogen associated with consuming these Lignans has positive effects on bone health, but its main use is the reduction of cancers associated with a reduced oestrogen count – meaning it has a protective effect on many cancers that affect females disproportionately such as breast cancer and cancer of the uterus.

4. Arterial Health

Aside from the general improvement of the blood lipid profile, the Lignans in flax have been shown to reduce the development of plaque and arterial wall hardening to an incredible degree. Whilst it is not sufficient to consume flax seed alone – a complete dietary and medical intervention is generally a wiser decision – it can be an incredible accompaniment to ensure the prevention and amelioration of arterial health problems.

5. Blood Health

Flax seed is high in manganese – an essential mineral for bone and blood health. Flax contains over 100% of the daily recommended amount of manganese and can be used to drastically increase the quality of blood health and bone health, fighting problems such as anaemia and osteoporosis [4].

6. Benefits for Menopausal/Post-Menopausal Women

The phytoestrogens found in flax also have benefits to the health of women who are currently going through the menopause or have already completed this process. The loss of the ovaries has a fundamentally-negative effect on the body’s production of oestrogen and this is associated with “hot flashes” which can be incredibly uncomfortable. The consumption of phytoestrogens has been shown to reduce the severity and regularity of these events.

7. Anti-oxidant

As with many healthy plant-based foods, Flax are incredibly high in anti-oxidant agents. The Lignans are anti-oxidant themselves but a variety of other compounds in flax seed have similar effects, making them a great food for the maintenance of health and general cancer protection – especially among those who perform intense, prolonged exercise such as long-distance running [5].

8. Anti-inflammatory

The phytochemicals, Lignan and Omega-3 found in flax seeds are all considered to be anti-inflammatory in some way. Omega-3 has been associated with universal anti-inflammatory processes, Lignan’s phytoestrogen status has a mild effect on the reduction of inflammatory process and the chemicals contained in flax are naturally effective at reducing inflammation and promoting proper recovery across a variety of tissues. This brings with it a wide variety of benefits, but generally means that a proper diet will be aided with the addition of flax seed, or flax seed oil.

9. Diabetes Control

Whilst the science is early, there are some indications that the consumption of flax seed may be beneficial for those who struggle with Type-2 diabetes, beyond the simple effects of Omega-3 and dietary fiber on these processes. The Lignans themselves reduce the quantity of both glucose and lipids in the blood, reducing the risk of both diabetic/pre-diabetic blood sugar problems and the risk of hyperlipidemia.

10. Phosphorous

Phosphorous is another mineral contained in huge quantities in flax seed. Phosphorous is essential for the maintenance of bone density and dental health. This mineral is also found in the vast majority of cells and consumption is necessary for proper overall cellular health. The combination of Phosphorous and the other compounds in Lignans make flax an excellent choice for the health of bones and teeth, especially in women and post-menopausal women.

Other Health Considerations

Flax Seed

11. Thyroid concerns

Despite the health benefits associated with consuming a lot of flax seed or oil, there are also some negative effects associated with consuming too much. For example, when eaten in large quantities the content of Cyanogenic glycosides – compounds which are metabolised in the body in a way that reduces the effectiveness of thyroid function, tied to the proper function of the metabolism. We may want to avoid consuming too many flax seeds, or focus more on the consumption of the oil which has a smaller risk of such problems.

12. Anti-Nutrients

There are some reports of Phytic acid, a compound found in flax seeds, reducing the short-term absorption of certain important minerals such as Iron (a mineral that many people are already deficient in). This means that the consumption of flax seed, whilst still healthy, should be distributed between different meals or consumed as snacks without other, iron-rich foods. This means that the way that we eat flax should be structured carefully for maximum health benefits and as few risks as possible.

Health Risk/Concerns

There are also, finally, some concerns for some populations regarding the otherwise-healthy effects of flax consumption. For example, eating a large quantity of Omega-3 (beyond recommended doses) can have negative impacts on those who struggle with thin blood: the reduction of glucose and blood lipids is good for most people but for those with excessively low blood pressure, this is not necessarily advisable. The phytoestrogens are similar in this regard: whilst they are profoundly effective for women (especially post-menopause), they may have some negative side effects in men or pregnant women – the excessive consumption and conversion of Lignans and phytoestrogens can affect the hormonal balance in a major way. Caution is advised when consuming large quantities and those who are concerned about the health effects should always consult their physician!

Bottomline

Flax seed or oil should be consumed in the diet of many individuals, especially those consuming a plant-based diet and in need of an increased Omega-3 intake. However, it does not benefit everyone equally due to the presence of phytoestrogens, and is preferentially-effective among females and particularly those who are currently experiencing menopause or are post-menopausal. The list of benefits are long but they are also conditional and should be taken seriously and structured to gain the maximum benefit: flax seeds should be consumed in relatively small portions, throughout the day and they should be carefully considered by those with hypotension or thin blood, pregnant women and those on a plant-based diet who are deficient in iron (especially hebe iron).

 Don’t Miss : 15 Acidic Foods to Avoid

Reference

[1] USDA branded food products database [URL = https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/115031]
[2] Anderson et al (2009): ‘Health benefits of dietary fiber’. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), pp.188-205
[3] Abumweiss et al (2008): ‘Plant sterols/stanols as cholesterol lowering agents: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials’. Food and nutrition research, 52.
[4] Elwassef et al (2009): ‘Impact of feeding flaxseed oil on delaying the development of osteoporosis in ovariectomised diabetic rats’. International journal of food safety, nutrition and public health, 2(2), pp.189-201
[5] Packer, L (1995): ‘Oxidative stress, antioxidants, aging and disease’. Oxidative stress and ageing, pp.1-14

Acidic Foods

15 Acidic Foods to Avoid – Natural Food Series

Acidic foods are those with a low-PH – they tend to be very tart or sour when eaten in high quantities and they can have some negative side effects. Whilst many foods vary in PH and some acidic foods do have other health-positive qualities, we might want to avoid them if we suffer from indigestion, heart burn, acid reflux or any variety of dental conditions. Or simply if we want nice teeth!

1. Orange juice

Orange juice is a favorite beverage in the UK and US, but it has a high acidity due to the high concentrations of added sugar and the fact that the orange, itself, is a highly-acidic citrus fruit. Despite the vitamins that we might get by drinking large quantities, this will damage the teeth and cause excessive sugar intake.

2. Citrus fruits: Lemons and Limes esp.

Why anyone would choose to eat lemons and limes by themselves totally escapes us: they taste acidic. However, to those who do this, it is impmortant to remember that the concentrated juice of citrus fruits like lemon and lime are around a 2-2.5 on the Ph scale, making them incredibly acidic. These are the most acidic fruits that don’t cause serious digestive problems. Eating too many is asking for trouble.

3. Grapes

Sour grapes or not, we should be careful consuming too many grapes as they are profoundly acidic. With an average PH in the low-3s, depending on the colour and age, grapes can cause serious damage to tooth enamel, especially among those who have been clinically-diagnosed as at risk for such problems.

4. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a form of pickled cabbage popular in central-eastern Europe and has been paired with a variety of foods such as wurst in German culinary culture. The problem, however, is that the pickling process is already a cause for acidity and the fact that cabbage is already an acidic vegetable means that it is even more of a problem – Sauerkraut may be poor for both the teeth and the digestive system.

5. White Bread

White bread has had an awful few years in terms of publicity: refined carbohdyrates are both metabolically-unpleasant and mildly acidic. The grains that are generally used to create these products are degrading and fermenting from the start. White bread is just one example, but a variety of other foodstuffs such as flour-based cakes are also mildly acidic.

6. Pork (some cuts; processed)

Some cuts of pork are also acidic – the fattier, lower-quality cuts are associated with greater acidity content. Whilst this may suggest a slight reduction in pork, the real problem is associated with the consumption of heavily-processed “pork products” such as hot dogs. These foods are both acidic and linked to the increased chance of developing colorectal cancer.

7. Beef (processed)

As with pork, some low-quality cuts of beef, or those which are not particularly fresh or fed on low-quality feed, will be considerably higher in acidity than their healthier counterparts. Consuming heavily processed or poor-quality beef (below grade-A, for example) may mean consuming unexpected quantities of acidic food.

8. Alcohol

Alcohol

Alcohol is acidic by definition: alcohols are ethanol combined with sugar. Ethanol is an acid and is responsible for the alcohol content of a wide variety of alcohols, produced through the fermentation process of either fruits or grains. Fermenting causes various compounds in the original foods to break down and become acidic. There are many reasons to ditch alcohol and this is just one of them.

9. Vinegar/Vinegarettes

Vinegar is high in acetic acid, with quantities concentrations of around 3-9%. This means that excessive consumption of vinegar will not dry your veins out, but it will damage the teeth and possibly the stomach depending on the individual’s health.

10. White Wine

Wine is an alcohol and acidic by definition, but white wine is especially bad, given the concentration of fermented white grapes – the more acidic variety of grapes. The fermentation of grapes is a combination of two red flags and means we should definitely avoid white wine, even more than alcohol more generally.

11. Soft Drinks

Mass-produced, HCF-based soft drinks are common in the English-speaking world and are awful for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the full-sugar, HCF-based drinks are acidic due to the high content of refined sugar. The diet versions, however, are associated with the acidity of their sweeteners (this will depend on the specific sweetener that is used).

12. Cured Foods (vinegar-preserved: gherkins/pickles, olives etc.)

We’ve already discussed how vinegar is an incredibly acidic substance, so it is unsurprising that pickling otherwise-healthy foods in vinegar might make them more acidic. Avoid foods such as pickled eggs, olives or pickles which have been stewed in vinegar. If olives aren’t a strong enough taste without adding acid to them, you may have deeper problems!

13. Sweeteners

As mentioned above, the vast majority of sweeteners are also acidic, composed of various synthetical chemicals with a low Ph (not that being synthetic is a bad thing in itself). These are contained in a wide variety of products: whilst they may generally be better for health than sugars, they are far from perfect and should be limited among those who are acid-sensitive.

14. Pecans

Pecans

A testament to the fact that not all acidic foods should be avoided, pecans are an example of a perfectly healthy food that may have negative effects on those who are worried about their dental health or acid reflux, as they are both acidic and high in fat.

15. Canola

Finally, it is important to avoid low-quality oils – not only are they acidic but they are highly concentrated sources of low-quality polyunsaturated oils. Canola, for example, should be reduced in the diet where possible. Focus should be placed on consuming healthier oils such as olive oil.

Acidic Foods Bottomline 

We’ve listed some of the most acidic foods that are commonly eaten. It is important to remember that this does not mean that we should always avoid these foods, but that we should closely monitor our intake – especially if we suffer from digestive acidity problems or dental conditions – and ensure that a proper balance of foods is consumed at any given time. Humans are slightly acidic by composition and the acidity of food does not mean that it is unhealthy or bad, simply that it is constituted by a high number of H molecules – whilst these might affect our health they are not a fool-proof method of structuring a diet. For example, pecans are a healthy food despite their acidity.

Don’t Miss : How To Make Yourself Pee – Simple Healthy Tricks

Tofu benefits and risk

Tofu 101: The Benefits and Potential Risks of Eating Tofu

Tofu is a substance that has been marketed as a meat-substitute and is a great source of B vitamins and a versatile foodstuff for those who are on a plant-based diet. It is made out of fermenting soy “milk”, which is then pressed into a cube shape. The density of the tofu can be changed based on the level of compression involved. Tofu has been a part of Eastern Asian cuisine for thousands of years and has been closely linked to the spread of cultural vegetarianism throughout the area. This article will discuss the health benefits and risks associated with the product, including comparisons to meat and plant products, and the overall efficacy as a dietary staple.

For the sake of this article, we will be using the statistics prepared and published by the USDA on firm, silken tofu [1] as this is one of the most common varieties and has the middling properties of both soft-silken and firm tofu.

Calories and Macronutrients

Tofu is a relatively low-calorie alternative – it is estimated that 100g of tofu contains only 62 calories overall, making it an incredibly calorie-sparse product. This means that it makes for an excellent dieting food: the number of calories is low but the volume of food (the physical mass and size of the food) is comparable to other foods that both omnivores and vegetarians may eat. This makes transitioning to tofu slightly easier for those who experience a great deal of hunger when switching diet.

The distribution of these calories among the three macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fats – is also positive. Tofu is mostly protein (by weight), with approximately 7g per 100, though this is more impressive by calorie: of tofu’s 62 calories, 28 are from protein. This reinforces the value of tofu as a diet food, because protein is associated with increased satiety and fat loss [2]. Fats are the second most plentiful macronutrient in tofu, at 2.7g per 100 or approximately 26 of 62 calories. This is to be expected of a product made from soy beans, and the fats are generally unsaturated and have been shown to make minimal, but positive, changes to blood cholesterol that are better than those seen in animal proteins (all other things being equal) [3]. Carbohydrates are the last macronutrient represented in tofu at only 2.4g per 100, or 10 calories. This makes tofu a suitable staple food for those who are on a very low-carb diet, or simply those who are attempting to reduce carbohydrates during resting days (those without much exercise).

Interestingly, the individual variation seen in the positive health effects of soy – primarily those linked to heart health and the reduction of cholesterols – is huge. When we look at the clinical studies, individual differences are huge and prevent an effective and definitive statement of the effects is almost impossible based on these studies alone. The best way to approach this is to simply try tofu/soy and see what effects it has on your individual blood lipid markers.

Micronutrients: Vitamins, Minerals and Anti-nutrients

tofu

Tofu’s main downfall is that it is fundamentally nutrient-sparse. Whilst there are small concentrations of potassium (200mg) and calcium in Tofu, it is effectively a mixture of protein, fats and air. The calorie-sparsity is associated with an equally low content of important nutrients – it is for this reason that we suggest consuming tofu as part of a larger meal with nutrient-dense foods like avocado, salmon or a variety of vegetables. It is also advised to eat tofu with other foods that have a greater fiber content: consuming a diet rich in tofu and low in other foods will be damaging to the digestive system as a result of the low fiber [4]. This is no different to animal products which also have no fiber, but various other plant foods contain a large quantity of both nutrients and dietary fiber. On this basis, we might not want to include tofu as a staple but rather as an extra in salads or other high-volume, nutrient-dense foods.

“Anti-nutrients” refer to those compounds that either inhibit the body’s proper functions or absorption of necessary compounds. Soy contains two important anti-nutrients: Trypsin and Phytates. These reduce the digestion of protein and mineral uptake respectively, causing some serious concerns in the health of the body when consumed in certain quantities. Additionally, whilst soy is generally safe and there has yet to be much definitive evidence, some case studies suggest that excessive consumption of soy is associated with the suppression of testosterone in men [5].

Equol: The Determining Factor in the use of Tofu

Equol is a strain of intestinal bacteria that is essential in the digestion and absorption of soy – meaning that it is an essential aspect in the way that we process tofu and the effects that it has on our health. Equol has been found to vary drastically between individuals, including based on nationality and ethnic heritage: those with Eastern Asian heritage have an increased likelihood of possessing equol [6].

The bacterial environment of the intestine has a large impact on the health benefits and risks of consuming excessive amounts of soy-based products. The digestion of the proteins and their effect on both testosterone and the proper regulation of oestrogen is dependent on the presence of this compound in the intestines. It is estimated that 30-50% of individuals in the United States produce equol naturally – this means that soy is an appropriate dietary staple for these individuals and only these individuals: the rest of us may be able to process the food and gain the benefits of the macronutrients, but the heart health and possible hormone changes are associated with this small population.

Closing Remarks

Tofu is an innocuous food with some interesting chemical interactions. The most interesting aspect of this food is that it has some benefits and risks among those who produce equol but has neither benefits nor risks for those who do not. The best approach, as mentioned above, is to consider the macronutrient and calorie content compared to our goals, then see whether we are able to properly metabolise tofu and gain the benefits. The worst thing we can say about tofu is that you probably shouldn’t eat it in large quantities if you’re a man (though this is a positive thing among post-menopausal women who benefit from greater exogenous phytoestrogens), otherwise it is totally innocuous and neutral.

Don’t Miss : Spirulina Benefits: 10 Scientifically-Proven Health Benefits 

 

Reference

[1] USDA nutrient database for standard reference, release 28 [URL = https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4889]
[2] Westerterp-Plantega et al (2009): ‘Dietary protein, weight loss and weight maintenance’. Annual review of nutrition, 29, pp.21-41
[3] Sacks et al (2006): ‘Soy protein, isoflavones and cardiovascular health’. American heart association, 113, pp.1034-1044
[4] Anderson et al (2009): ‘Health benefits of dietary fiber’. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), pp.188-205
[5] Liu et al (2011): ‘Equol-producing phenotype and in relation to serum sex hormones among healthy adults in Beijing’. Journal of hygiene science, 40(6), pp.727-731
[6] Shor et al (2012): ‘Does equol production determine soy endocrine effects’. European journal of nutrition, 51(4), pp.389-398