How Flax Seed Can Improve Your Cholesterol Levels

by Melanie Thomassian Health Professional

Flax seeds have become more and more popular in recent years, due to their health-protective properties. Most notably, reducing the risk of heart disease, as well as the prevention of some cancers.

So, why are flax seeds beneficial for heart health?

Flax seeds and cholesterol lowering

Flax seeds are a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid. This is the plant-derived type of omega-3 fats, which has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides levels.

A 2010 study, published in Nutrition Research, found that daily administration of 100mg of flaxseed lignan, can be effective at reducing blood cholesterol levels, in men with a moderately high cholesterol level.

Another small study, involving 40 patients with high cholesterol levels, were instructed to take 20 grams of ground flax seed per day. When the results were compared to the group taking a statin drugs, those receiving flax seed did just as well as those given statin drugs.

Flax seeds also contain both insoluble and soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is thought to aid in lowering cholesterol, by preventing the absorption of cholesterol within the body.

How to store flax seeds

You will be able to purchase flax seeds either whole or ground. Ground flax seeds are obviously more convenient, but they need to be kept in an airtight and opaque container for up to 30 days, to prevent their omega-3 fats from oxidising.

Whole flax seeds need to be ground in a coffee grinder at home, to make their alpha-linolenic acid available.

If you are purchasing flax seed oil, look for one in an opaque bottle, and store it in the refrigerator. It should not be used in cooking due to the low smoke point. But, it can be added to foods after they have been heated, or used as the basis for salad dressings.

How much flax seed do you need?

Generally speaking, 1-2 tablespoons of ground or milled flax seed per day is safe for most adults. Ground flax seeds are recommended over flax seed oil.

2 tablespoons (14g) of ground flax seeds contain 80 calories, 0.5g saturated fat, 3.5g PUFA, 1g MUFA, and 4g fiber.

If you don't like fish, but want to boost your intake of omega-3 fats, flax seed can be a valuable addition to your diet, to help decrease your risk of heart disease.

A few quick serving ideas:

  • Sprinkle ground flax seeds on hot or cold cereal, or natural yogurt.

  • Add them to breakfast shakes or smoothies.

  • Sprinkle them onto cooked vegetables, or add them to a salad.

  • Use ground flax seeds as a substitute for eggs in baked recipes. (Note: 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds, plus 3 tablespoons water, is equal to 1 egg. 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds can be substituted for 1 tablespoon butter, shortening, or vegetable oil.)

  • Flax seed oil can be used as the base of homemade salad dressings.

Melanie Thomassian
Meet Our Writer
Melanie Thomassian

Melanie is a dietitian and writer. She wrote for HeatlhCentral as a health professional for Food & Nutrition and Heart Health.