Linseed vs Flaxseed
Linseeds (Linum usitatissiumum) are shaped like sesame seeds, but are a little larger and have a harder, shinier shell. They are a dark brown or sometimes a reddish-brown colour, but the golden linseeds are, well…a golden colour. 😉
Have you noticed that North Americans tend to call it flaxseed while Europeans call it linseed? Well, just to make it more confusing, it depends on what it’s used for! Generally, they are called the respective names above in each country for the edible version.
There are many different varieties, but the shorter stemmed-plant with more and fatter seeds is often used for oil (both for consumption and use in coating materials like paints). The taller variety has been traditionally been grown for the fibres used to make ropes, linen and ships’ sails.
Historically, the plants grown for oil were used mainly to make varnish, oilcloth and paints, rather than for consumption. However, in ancient times, it was used for health reasons as well.
As far back as Hippocrates’ time in 650 BC, linseed has been recommended for stomach pains. In the 8th centure AC, Charlemagne passed laws requiring his subjects to consume linseed for their health. So what are the benefits?
Under the Spotlight
Linseeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids (ALA), but also:
- Phytoestrogens called lignans
- A good source of fibre
- Also the minerals copper, iron and phosphorus
- Protein (25%)
Benefits to Your Health
The main benefits to your health from linseeds come from the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and lignans in them. Linseeds actually have more omega 3 fats than fish oil does, but they need to be converted into the same type (long-chain) as the fish oil has to obtain the health benefits.
If you have enough of a certain enzyme (delta-6-desaturase) then that is no problem. People who may have less are those with diabetes or nutritional deficiencies or who consume a lot of saturated fat and alcohol. Here are some of the benefits of linseeds:
- ALA reduces the risk of cancer (breast, ovarian and prostate) and heart disease
- The lignans reduce breast cancer risk as well! The lignans (a part of the fibre of linseeds) are phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) that interfere with the cancer-promoting effect of oestrogens and helps remove it from the body (by boosting sex-hormone binding globulin – SHBG)
- Linseed may actually shrink breast cancers as well
- Lowers overall cholesterol levels
- Reduces constipation as it helps softens the stool
- Helps with weight loss as it helps you feel fuller for longer
- Reduces PMS and changes in menopause
- Lowers pain in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Replace 1/4 of the flour in a baking recipe with ground linseeds
- Use linseed oil on salads or as a dipping sauce
- Add a tablespoon of linseeds to your breakfast cereal or smoothie
- If you are cooking something in a frying pan, like tofu or mushrooms, coat them in linseeds first
- Buy the linseeds you prefer; whole or ground, but remember that whole linseeds are less digestible so you need to soak them for a few hours (or overnight) or grind them in a coffee grinder first.