By Denis Faye

Those-in-the-know have touted the benefits of flaxseed for years. King Charlemagne believed in the stuff so much that he made it required eating in the 8th-century Frankish Empire. Of course, current wisdom isn't based purely on the enthusiasm of one old, dead, white guy. The multitude of health claims associated with flaxseed, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer prevention, is primarily due to its three most important components: omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, and fiber.

The nutrition facts

One tablespoon of ground flaxseed has 37 calories, of which 25 come from fat. It has 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of protein.

Most of that fat is unsaturated and over half of it comes in the form of omega-3s, which help with brain development, nervous system function, and eyesight. Many experts also believe omega-3s reduce the risk of arthritis, some cancers, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Vegetarian and fish-free diets tend to be weak in omega-3 fatty acids, making flaxseed vital.

Lignans are phytoestrogens believed to have antioxidant properties, meaning they possibly reduce the risk of various cancers, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases. Flaxseed is a top source of lignans, with almost ten times more than its nearest competitor, sesame seeds.

Fiber is the primary draw of flaxseed, with its combo of soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber turns into a gel on your insides and soaks up cholesterol. Insoluble fiber just goes right through and is essential in keeping you regular. Both forms of fiber also slow digestion, thus preventing sugar spikes.

There are also small amounts of various vitamins and minerals in flaxseed, most notably thiamin, magnesium, and manganese.

How do you eat this stuff?

The only problem with the fiber in flaxseed is that it forms a barrier. Eaten whole, it'll just pass right through you, undigested. You won't reap any of the other benefits if you don't grind the stuff up first. You'll find flaxseed in all kinds of breads, cereals, and baked goods. You can also add it to smoothies and protein shakes.

1 Tbsp. of flaxseed, ground (7 g)
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total
37 1 g 2 g 2 g 3 g