People often ask me which type of flax seed they should be eating: whole or ground? My quick answer is to eat the ground flax seeds, because more of the fiber is absorbed. When whole seeds are consumed, they usually travel right through your digestive system and out into the toilet. But, I think a deeper explanation is needed.
First of all, why even eat flax seeds in the first place?
They are a great source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, magnesium, potassium and fiber, and a good source of B-vitamins, protein and zinc. Flax seeds are very low in calories. The best part? They’re so versatile! They have sort of a nutty flavor that can be mixed into water or juice; added to yogurt, smoothies, salads and cereals; and I even add ground flax seed into things I am baking for an extra dose of fiber.
The main difference between whole and ground flax seeds is the type of fiber you are getting. There are two main types of fiber – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel in the digestive tract. As it mixes with other fluids in your body, it expands and makes you feel full. Soluble fiber also slows down digestion, especially digestion of carbohydrates. This is why it is recommended for people with blood sugar issues or diabetes. By slowing digestion, it prevents severe spikes in blood sugar after carbs are eaten.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, but it binds to water and minerals. It feeds the healthy bacteria in the colon, and bulks up stools for healthier elimination. By aiding in bowel movements, insoluble fiber helps the body eliminate toxins more regularly and therefore keeps the internal environment healthier and more in balance.
The outer shell of a flax seed contains insoluble fiber, and the inside of the seed contains soluble fiber. Since insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, a whole seed will not break down inside of us. So, we get the benefits of the insoluble fiber but we simply eliminate the soluble fiber. Therefore, when the flax seeds are ground, we release the soluble fiber and can benefit from both types. However, if you are eating crackers or muffins that have whole flax seeds in them, it’s not a wasted effort. You’ll still benefit from the insoluble fiber.
You can buy whole flax seeds and grind them yourself at home, in a coffee grinder, blender or by hand. Or, you can take the easy route and purchase ground flax seed. Once the flax seed is ground, it needs to be refrigerated. Ground flax seed spoils quickly and will lose many of its nutritional benefits if not kept in the refrigerator or freezer.
I hope this helps! Even though many of us knew that ground flax seed was better than whole flax seeds, I think it’s important to understand the “why” behind the choices we make.