Is Flaxseed Paleo?

Flaxseed and ground flaxseed meal are popular ingredients in many gluten free items and recipes. But is flaxseed Paleo? Where does it fit in a primal diet and what benefits does it offer?

Nutritional Value of Flaxseed Meal

Serving Size: 2 Tablespoons

  • Calories: 60
  • Calories from Fat: 40
  • Dietary Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 3 g

flaxseed-2-300x199.pngFlaxseeds are exactly what they sound like: the seeds of flax, one of the oldest crops in the world. There are two different kinds of flaxseeds: golden and brown. The two varieties are very similar and contain the same number of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients.

Flaxseed provides dietary fiber, manganese, antioxidants, vitamin B1, and omega-3 fatty acids. It is also rich in lignans, which are antioxidant chemical compounds that destroy damaging free radicals within the body, making flaxseed an anti-cancer food with numerous other health benefits.

The fiber in flaxseed is both soluble and insoluble, which means that it’s helpful for lowering blood glucose as well as adding bulk to the food that passes through the digestive system, allowing the intestines to function more efficiently.

Health Benefits of Flaxseed

flaxseed-3-300x300.pngFlaxseed contains a high amount of lignans compared to other foods, and studies have shown longterm health benefits from eating them regularly. Flaxseed has been shown to lower the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, many forms of cancer, and is effective at improving skin conditions. Studies have revealed the heart health benefits of flaxseed, including that it can be as effective at lowering blood pressure as prescription drugs.

Flaxseed is beneficial for women in menopause and those experiencing other hormonal imbalances, as it reduces the incidence of hot flashes. It is also effective at reducing bone loss as a result of hormonal changes.

Flaxseed increases the activity of the immune system and can reduce inflammatory responses in conditions like arthritis.

Should I Eat Flaxseed? Is Flaxseed Paleo?

flaxseed-4-300x199.pngFlaxseed is best eaten when it is ground into meal, as the whole seeds won’t easily digest and may pass through the digestive system without being broken down.

Purchase flaxseeds whole and then grind them yourself (a simple coffee grinder works for this). If you choose to purchase ground flaxseeds, make sure that they have been frozen from the time that they were ground. Because flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 oils, they also have the potential to go rancid. Freezing prevents degradation of the oils. If grinding your own flaxseeds, do them as you need them, as you get the most benefits from them when they are freshly ground.

Pregnant women should be cautious about eating flaxseed because of the phytoestrogens it contains. While these are beneficial in most, not enough research has been done to see how it interacts with the higher estrogen levels that pregnancy brings. To be safe, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should make flaxseed a very limited part of their diet.

People with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, and other issues like fibroids, endometriosis, or PCOS should not eat flaxseed or should have it in very limited quantities. While increasing immune function is normally good, in those with autoimmunity or other related conditions, it can perpetuate autoimmune reactions and worsen the disease or prolong healing. In those with IBD or Crohn’s, flaxseed can act as a laxative and worsen the condition. Flaxseed should also not be eaten by those who are on anticoagulants since it can increase bleeding time.

Flaxseed is technically Paleo because it is a seed, and not a grain, but some argue that it shouldn’t be part of a Paleo diet because it has the potential in some people to be detrimental. As always, while there are standard Paleo recommendations, it is always in your best interest to determine what is best for you based on your existing conditions and how foods specifically make you feel. When in doubt about a food item like flaxseed, eat in moderation.

Aimee McNewAimee McNew

Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid disorders, autoimmunity, and fertility. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: A Healing Plan for Managing Symptoms Naturally (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.