Will flaxseed help with weight loss or make things even worse?
Flaxseed is praised by many people in the fitness community. Some of them would even try to convince you flaxseed is some sort of a miracle weight loss food.
The main argument in favor of using flaxseed for weight loss is its high fiber and low carbohydrate (sugar) content.
And even though the fat content of flaxseed is on the high end, these fats fall into the "good" fats category. This, supposedly, makes flaxseed an excellent choice because of health and weight loss benefits.
Time to take a closer look at the claims made about using flax seeds for weight loss.
The biggest benefit of using flaxseed for weight loss
The first benefit of flaxseed is its high fiber content.
The American Dietetic Association has this to say on dietary fiber and weight loss: "High-fiber diets provide bulk, are more satiating, and have been linked to lower body weights."
And it's true, flax seeds contain a lot of fiber. They are actually one of the most fiber-rich foods in existence.
So after you eat the flaxseeds, the fiber in them binds water to itself (so make sure to drink plenty of fluids with flaxseed). Because of that, they will expand in volume.
This makes you feel fuller and satiated for a longer time. Naturally, this can help out with weight loss, because hunger will not kick in as quickly as usual after a meal that includes flaxseeds.
There's only one problem with this.
Can flax seeds actually make you gain weight?
If you look at the USDA National Nutrient Database and sort all the listed foods according to their fiber content, flaxseeds will be in the 39th place.
Given that there are more than 8000 different foods listed in that database, flaxseed (with 27.3 grams of fiber per 100g) is among the top 5% of foods richest in fiber.
But when it comes to weight loss, there is one more critically important thing that simply can't be overlooked.
And that would be the arch-enemy of weight loss, calories.
With 534 calories per 100g, flax seeds are also among the top 5% of foods highest in calories.
So what good is all that fiber, if it comes packed with so many calories that could make you gain weight very quickly?
How to keep the benefits of flaxseed (but get rid of calories)
Ok, so you want to keep the benefits of fiber (that has been proven to increase your feeling of fullness and satiation), but without getting in as many calories as with flaxseed.
Let's take a look at some of your options (each of these will provide you with 534 calories):
- 100 grams of flax seeds containing 27.3 grams of fiber
- 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of raspberries containing 65 grams of fiber
- 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) of cooked cauliflower containing 52.9 grams of fiber
So there you go. Many different foods can provide you with A LOT more bulk & fiber than flaxseed (if you get in the same amount of calories).
I'm sure you can agree with me that eating 5 pounds of anything would keep you feeling more full and satisfied than 100g of flaxseed ever could.
I'm not saying you need to eat 5 pounds of cauliflower. I'm just saying other foods can provide you with the same weight loss benefits as flaxseed, except without nearly as many calories.
But aren't the fats in flax seeds the good, healthy fats?
Yes, the omega-3 fats (the ones contained in flax seeds) are better than omega-6 or saturated fats as far as your health is concerned.
But if you're looking into flax seeds for weight loss reasons, the omega-3 fats won't be doing you any favors. A fat-calorie is still a calorie and if you get in too many of them, you will gain weight.
And while you definitely want to get in the recommended daily intake of the "good" omega-3 fats, you can again do this with plenty of other foods (that are also lower in calories).
Just as an example, if you followed my crazy idea and ate 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) of cooked cauliflower, that would provide you with 240% of the recommended daily intake for omega-3.
So even with just cauliflower, you can get in more than double the amount of omega-3 your body requires (but luckily, you won't ever need to eat that much).
Just to set the record straight. I'm not against including flaxseed as part of a healthy diet, but this article is about weight loss. And when it comes to that, flaxseed just may not be your best bet.
One final trick on how you can still benefit from flaxseeds (to a degree) while avoiding getting in as many calories.
A simple trick to make flaxseed a part of your weight loss diet
If you still want to include flaxseed in your weight loss diet, even after making it this far in the article, I do have one more trick for you.
Do not grind the flax seeds.
If you eat them whole, the fiber in them will still bind water to itself and inflate. This too will help you feel fuller and satisfied longer, but your body will have a much harder time absorbing the nutrients if the flax seeds remain whole.
According to this study, your body will be able to absorb way less calories because whole flax seeds will mostly just pass through you.
Unfortunately, this means it will also absorb less of the healthy nutrients (like the "good" omega-3 fatty acids), so this trick can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
The final verdict on eating flax seeds for weight loss
The bottom line is, if you're looking to lose weight, you do want to consume a lot of fiber (to help you feel full and satisfied), but you also want to keep your calories as low as possible.
With that goal in mind, flaxseed just might not be the best tool to get the job done.
But like I said, I am not suggesting you should start avoiding flax seeds even if you want to lose weight (especially if you are not getting your omega-3's elsewhere).
I am only saying that flaxseeds aren't as special as some people/websites would have you believe.
In my opinion (and the science and nutrition data agrees with me), far better food options exist to help you on your weight loss journey.