Flaxseed, what is it and why do so many people put it in gluten free foods? What are it’s benefits and is there a downside?
I must say, this post has been an educational experience for me and has changed my point of view.
Flaxseed is also known as linseed. Doesn’t mean anything to you? Me neither, though I have heard the word before.
The plant is flax, but in another article it was referred to as the linseed plant. Frequently, it goes by both names. The seeds are called linseed or flaxseed. It is an ancient grain that people have been growing as early as 3000 B.C.
“Her hair was flaxen!”
Here is why people like flaxseed, but keep in mind many researchers still don’t consider the benefits settled. They do agree that research suggests that there “appear” to be many benefits. Let’s list a few:
Reduce the risk of:
- Heart Disease
- Lung Disease
- high blood pressure
- high Cholesterol
- (reduce) hot flashes
- (prevent) constipation
What makes flaxseed so beneficial?
- Omega-3s- Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
- healthy fats
- fiber- both soluble and insoluble fiber
- antioxidant properties
- amino acids
Which is better flaxseed or flaxseed oil?
With flaxseed you get the entire seed and benefits of the whole thing. The oil only gives you part of the pieces of the seed.
Don’t just eat the seeds
The body isn’t made to digest flaxseed in it’s whole form. Eating it straight will not give you the benefits, because it will go straight through you. So, to get the benefits of this wonder seed we need to grind it down. Because flaxseed has a lot of oil and the seeds are small, the best way to grind it is with a coffee grinder.
The oils will gum up a grinder and many find that using an electric coffee grinder is the way to go, when you are doing it yourself. In fact, any seed or other oily grain that you want to grind, does better in a coffee grinder.
Is there a downside to flaxseed?
There are a few concerns and downside to flaxseed, for some people. Keep in mind these problems usually go along with other conditions or from high consumption of flaxseed. Some people tolerate it very well and others may not do so well. Listen to your body.
- High consumption of flaxseed can lead to a laxative effect. For this reason the National Institute of Health has suggested that those with the following conditions should not use flaxseed: diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. (I need to re-evaluate our use of flaxseed, considering my husband was diagnosed with crohn’s.)
- If you are eating a lot of flaxseed it can cause obstructions in the esophagus, intestines or bowel.
- Some people are allergic to flaxseed
- Because of the estrogen found in the plant, it can have a negative effect on those with certain hormone related health conditions. This is because the hormone in the plant acts the same as human hormones. (Reminds me of the issues with estrogen in soy.)
- May reduce blood clotting; making the blood thinner.
- Can cause the mania in some people who are bipolar
- May contain heavy metal amounts because of contaminated soil. The one of most concern with the flaxseed crop is cadium. The cadium the plant absorbs may actually increase the chances of breast cancer. Undoing all the benefits of the flaxseed. Organic foods are NOT tested for heavy metals.
- Possible cross contamination with gluten. As with any grain, if the flaxseed is grown in a field that alternates with gluten grains the potential for cross contamination increases. Also, if the milling happens in a plant, but especially on the same equipment or same area as gluten grains the potential for cross contamination is greater.
Who shouldn’t supplement with flaxseed?
With so many great benefits it seems like everyone should supplement their diet with flaxseed! However, there are groups of people that should be more weary:
- Pregnant women (more below)
- According to research, breast feeding mothers may not want to consume flaxseed. Studies are contradictory and the risk may outweigh the benefits.
“Our own animal studies showed that flaxseed exposure during these stages may be protective against breast cancer in the offspring. But a study of another investigator showed the opposite effect,” Thompson says.
- Hormone related health conditions: endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, uterine fibroids, and breast, ovarian or uterine cancer. Pregnant women also should not consume supplemental flax seed, as it could stimulate menstruation or cause other hormonal effects that might be harmful to the developing baby.
- You shouldn’t eat flaxseed if you have the following: diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- People who have scleroderma.
- Those who have an allergic reaction to flaxseed which can include: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or anaphylaxis.
- Diabetics should be cautious about consuming flaxseed and how much. (This one is a little confusing since other information says it may lower the risk of diabetes. One would think that it would also help if you already have diabetes. I think the biggest problem for diabetics with this is the thinning blood.)
- People with bleeding disorders should also be cautious. This is because it can thin the blood and reduce blood clotting.
- Those who are bipolar– flaxseed may bring on mania.
Why I Use Flaxseed in My Flour Mixture
I wanted to add more protein and fiber to our flour mixture. Our whole family is gluten free and so, I make Bette Hagman’s combination for flour; it is less expensive for me to do so. Which is simply: 6 cups rice flour, 2 cups potato starch and 1 cup tapioca flour. Then, I add approximately 1/4 cup (maybe a little less) of ground flaxseed. I really like this mixture and it works well in most things.
For baked goods I use Bette Hagman’s Featherlight combination of 1:1:1. 1 Cup rice flour, 1 cup corn starch and 1 cup tapioca starch. (I do not add flaxseed to this! You want it to be light so your baked goods can be fluffy.)
***Remember that there IS a difference between potato starch and potato flour. Potato starch will last longer and they have different textures.
Tapioca starch and tapioca flour are the exact same thing! There is no end to the confusion in the gluten free diet.
Continued use of flaxseed?
I need to carefully decide if we should continue to use flaxseed in our mixture; I am leaning toward not doing so. My husband has been diagnosed with crohn’s and that is a big deal! The last thing I want is to cause him more problems with his digestive tract.
Another big concern for me is the hormone issues. My daughter has Hashimotos and hormones do affect this disease in a negative way. It is recommended to avoid soy (which is also hard to do on a gluten free diet) and the hormone issue is the same or similar with flaxseed.
In my opinion, I don’t understand why so many gluten free companies use these plants that are hormone disrupters. People with celiac already have a higher risk of developing certain conditions like auto-immune thyroid and these foods can have such a negative effect.
I am disheartened by what I have learned in writing this post. When I began, I was a proponent for flaxseed, but after what I have learned I am strongly leaning toward discontinuing using flaxseed.