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Dear Mayo Clinic: I have heard that adding flaxseed to my diet could im­prove my health, but I know noth­ing about it. What’s the best way to take it?

A: Flaxseed is a nu­tri­tional pow­er­house. Its health ben­e­fits come from the fact that it’s high in fi­bre and is a rich source of a plant­based type of omega-3 fatty acid called al­phali­nolenic acid. Flaxseed also con­tains an ar­ray of other ben­e­fi­cial nu­tri­ents, in­clud­ing sol­u­ble and in­sol­u­ble fi­bre, an­tiox­i­dant phy­to­chem­i­cals called lig­nans, and nu­mer­ous other vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

Flaxseed com­monly is used to im­prove di­ges­tive health or re­lieve con­sti­pa­tion, but it also may help lower to­tal blood choles­terol and low-den­sity lipopro­tein (LDL, or “bad”) choles­terol lev­els, which may help re­duce the risk of heart dis­ease. The con­nec­tion be­tween di­etary fi­bre in flaxseed and di­ges­tive health is fairly ob­vi­ous. But when it comes to po­ten­tial heart health ben­e­fits, it’s not clear which com­po­nents of flaxseed are most ben­e­fi­cial. It’s pos­si­ble that all com­po­nents are ben­e­fi­cial or that they may work to­gether.

Ground flaxseed is eas­ier to di­gest than whole flaxseed. Whole flaxseed may pass through your in­tes­tine undi­gested, which means you won’t get its full nu­tri­tional ben­e­fit. Flaxseed sup­ple­ments are avail­able but usu­ally con­tain only one el­e­ment of flaxseed nu­tri­tion, such as the al­pha-linolenic acid-rich oil, thus lim­it­ing their ben­e­fit. Flaxseed oil is also avail­able. It has more al­pha-linolenic acid than ground flaxseed, but it doesn’t con­tain all the nu­tri­ents of ground flaxseed.

The best way to in­cor­po­rate flaxseed into your diet is by adding 1 to 4 ta­ble­spoons of ground flaxseed to your snacks and meals each day. Flaxseed has a light, nutty taste that can be added to any num­ber of foods. Try mix­ing 1 ta­ble­spoon of ground flaxseed into yo­gurt, or hot or cold break­fast ce­real. You could add 1 tea­spoon to may­on­naise or mustard when mak­ing a sand­wich. Or add ground flaxseed to a smoothie, pan­cake mix or baked goods.

Un­ripe and raw flaxseed can have tox­ins that may be harm­ful in high doses. Con­sider toast­ing, cook­ing or bak­ing the flaxseed to de­stroy those tox­ins. Flaxseed is avail­able in bulk — whole or ground — at many gro­cery stores and health food stores. Whole seeds can be ground in a cof­fee grinder and then stored in an air­tight con­tainer for sev­eral months. To pre­serve the taste and health ben­e­fits of flaxseed, keep it in the re­frig­er­a­tor, or freezer and grind it just be­fore us­ing.

Like other sources of fi­bre, flaxseed should be taken with plenty of wa­ter or other flu­ids. Flaxseed shouldn’t be taken at the same time as oral med­i­ca­tions or other di­etary sup­ple­ments. As al­ways, talk with your doc­tor be­fore try­ing any di­etary sup­ple­ments.


Flaxseed is high in fi­bre and is a rich source of a plant-based type of omega-3 fatty acid called al­pha-linolenic acid.

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