You hear again and again that flaxseed is healthy – but also that it is said to be harmful to health in large quantities. But at what level does it become a concern?
Stay healthy with flaxseed: Commonly referred to as a superfood, this food has a good reputation among nutrition-conscious people. However, some also worry that the seeds, despite all the benefits, could be harmful to health. What are these concerns about and for whom are flaxseed suitable?
Flaxseed: Popular crop
Linum usitatissimum, the botanical name of flaxseed, is a special plant that has been cultivated for thousands of years and used as a food source, among other things. Because the oily seeds of flax can be processed into linseed oil, while the fibers of the plant are used in the textile industry, among other things. But the shell of the seed is also valuable and can be used sensibly as part of a balanced diet.
Which ingredients make flaxseed healthy?
But what exactly is in the small seeds that are praised by many as a real panacea? First of all, flaxseed contains fiber and mucilage – these are especially good for the gastrointestinal tract. Flaxseeds swell up there and thus promote healthy digestion. Especially in creamy smoothies, but also mixed with muesli, the small seeds can be beneficial for the digestive system.
The fact that flaxseeds are considered healthy is mainly due to one ingredient: They contain many omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Flaxseed can therefore support the immune system. In the case of chronic autoimmune diseases, too, it is often advised to rely on omega-3 fatty acids – in this case, linolenic acid.
Just as important: Flaxseeds contain a lot of protein, which is why they are often used as a supplement in vegetarian and vegan cuisine. All of this qualifies flaxseed as a real superfood, which is also much cheaper than, for example, chia seeds.
Are Flaxseeds Toxic?
However, there is also a big but: Flaxseed contains so-called cyanogenic glycosides. Under certain conditions, these can be converted into hydrocyanic acid, which in turn can be harmful to health. So far, there have been no reliable studies on the subject. The current research situation tends towards the fact that small amounts of flaxseed are classified as harmless, but large amounts should be avoided.
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment shares this view. Therefore, it is believed that flaxseed can be healthy and useful as long as the daily dose is not exceeded. It is recommended not to consume more than 15 grams per meal. That’s about the equivalent of a tablespoon.
This should be taken into account when taking flaxseed
For flaxseed to have a healthy effect on the body, it is particularly important to drink a lot before and after ingestion. Because, as already mentioned, the mucous substances in the intestine swell up. This increases the volume in the intestines and digestion can get going – also with the help of the oils it contains. However, if the body does not get enough liquid, the opposite effect can occur and possible constipation even worsens.
For children and pregnant women, the consumption of flaxseed is often viewed critically and should therefore always be clarified in advance with the family doctor, pediatrician, or gynecologist. People who suffer from chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract should also avoid flaxseed, as should people who have previously had an intestinal obstruction or who cannot drink enough for health reasons.
You should also make sure that flaxseed is not taken together with medication. Under certain circumstances, they can prevent the active ingredients from being absorbed by the intestine as intended. As a rule, three hours should elapse after taking the medication before flaxseed is used.
Where can you get flaxseed?
Flaxseed is available in drugstores and now also in many supermarkets. You can also buy them at most health food stores and online. You often have the choice between whole and ground flaxseed. Flaxseed flour, which can replace ordinary flour to a certain extent, can also be found more and more frequently. The broken seeds and the flour form are usually more effective, as the oil and other ingredients contained can be better processed by the body. The swelling effect is also greater than with whole flaxseed. Ground flaxseeds are therefore particularly healthy, especially for the intestines.