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Must You Grind Flaxseed to Get Its Nutritional Benefits?

The scientific consensus is that if you grind flaxseed, you get more of the fiber, lignans and omega-3 fats that make it a healthful food.
Must You Grind Flaxseed to Get Its Nutritional Benefits?
Brown flax seeds in spoon and flaxseed oil in glass bottle on white wooden background. Flax oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acid.

The humble flaxseed is now being hailed as a superfood because it is a great source of fiber, healthful omega-3 fats and lignans. The fiber content is helpful against constipation. A systematic review showed that flaxseed can lower blood pressure significantly (Ursoniu et al, Clinical Nutrition, June 2016). In addition, people who consume ground flaxseed have lower cholesterol and a slightly lower chance of heart disease. But do you have to grind flaxseed in order to get any benefits from it?

Why You Might Want to Grind Flaxseed:

Q. I recently started adding flaxseed to my diet by sprinkling seeds on my breakfast cereal. A friend says that I won’t get health benefits unless I grind the seeds before consuming them. Is this true? I hate to add another step to my morning routine unless it’s needed. Besides, I like the way the seeds taste.

A. Most people can’t chew flaxseeds effectively, so they grind them first or swallow them whole. (They are tiny.) Nutrition experts do recommend grinding them first to release the fiber and the beneficial fatty acids. Flaxseeds are helpful for constipation and may lower cholesterol as well.

Ground flaxseed goes rancid easily, however, so it should be kept in the freezer until you are ready to use it. If you buy it ground, you wouldn’t have to use the blender or coffee grinder to break those seeds up before you have breakfast.

Flaxseeds for Constipation:

One reader found a way to utilize flaxseeds’ fiber content to prevent constipation:

“I purchase flaxseed in bulk at a health food store for about $1.50 per pound. I put three quarts of water on to boil, add two tablespoons of flax seed and simmer for fifteen minutes. Then I cool it and strain it into containers. (It makes just over two quarts.) With two ounces in my orange juice every morning, I am more than satisfied.”

Other readers have also pointed out that flaxseed is an ingredient in Uncle Sam’s Laxative Cereal, which may also be a helpful approach to constipation.

Other readers have also had success. 

Here is one person’s story:

Q. I have been having constipation problems for over a year. I tried everything, from increasing my activity level to adding more fiber to my diet. I took soluble fiber supplements and Chinese herbal medicine. Nothing really worked.

Then I finally tried flaxseed. I bought ground flaxseed before and it did not work. This time I use whole flaxseed and grind them right before taking 2 tablespoons every day with yogurt.

It works like magic. I am no longer suffering constipation.

Joy wants to know how to grind flaxseed:

“A women wrote that she grinds her flax see just before using it, how does she grind it? Would a coffee grinder work?”

A coffee grinder or a spice grinder works well. You can also use a blender, particularly if it has a small blender jar.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Ursoniu S et al, "Effects of flaxseed supplements on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trial." Clinical Nutrition, June 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnu.2015.05.012
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