Make it a point to add heart-smart, cancer-fighting flaxseed to your diet.

Teeny-tiny, shiny brown flaxseeds are great for your blood sugar as well as your heart, so if you haven’t tried them yet, it’s time for a trip to the store. Buy ground flaxseed or grind it yourself in a food processor or coffee grinder. If you don’t see it in your supermarket, look in a natural foods store. Using flaxseed may be a mystery to you now, but it’s simple once you know how. It has a pleasant, nutty flavor.

Flaxseed is rich in both protein and fiber (more than 2 grams per tablespoon of ground seeds). It’s also a good source of magnesium, a mineral that’s key to good blood sugar control, because it helps cells use insulin. Several large studies have found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes skyrockets when magnesium intake is low, so get your fill. Even if you already have diabetes, getting plenty of magnesium can help.

Don’t eat enough fish? Load up on flaxseed. It’s rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which the body uses to make the same type of omega-3 fatty acids you get from fish. Like fish, flaxseed keeps your heart healthy by lowering cholesterol, keeping your heart pumping normally, and preventing dangerous blood clots from forming. Also like fish, it guards against inflammation in the body, which is linked to many age-related disorders, including insulin resistance and diabetes.

Health Bonus
Because flaxseed protects against inflammation, it also helps guard against inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, eczema, and psoriasis.

The omega-3 fats in flaxseed help prevent and even help treat breast cancer, thanks to hormone-like plant compounds called lignans. In the body, these convert to compounds that are similar to the body’s own estrogen but have much weaker activity. By occupying estrogen receptors on cells, they block the effects of natural estrogen and thus may provide protection against hormone-fueled cancers such as breast cancer. Flaxseed has several hundred times more lignans than any other plant food.

Like fish, flaxseed may also offer protection from Alzheimer’s and depression. Constipated? Flaxseed should do the trick. (Eat too much, and you’ll quickly discover the laxative effects.)

Glycemic Load: Very low

The lignans in flaxseed are much better absorbed by the body if the seeds are eaten ground or crushed. (Whole seeds, on the other hand, tend to pass right through your body undigested.) But because of its high fat content, flaxseed will spoil if you grind it but don’t use it right away. The solution: Buy whole seeds in bulk and grind them only as you need them. Whole seeds will last up to a year stored at room temperature. If you buy ground flaxseed, keep it in the fridge.

Menu Magic
You can easily make ground flaxseed part of almost any meal.

  • Sprinkle on hot or cold cereal.
  • Add to meat loaf, meatballs, burgers, and casseroles.
  • Stir into yogurt or add to granola or trail mix.
  • Add a tablespoon or two to doughs and batters for pancakes, waffles, muffins, and breads. Just keep an eye on baked goods in the oven; the flaxseed could make them brown quicker than usual.
  • Use as a topping for ice cream or frozen yogurt.
  • Add to smoothies.
  • Use to replace one-fourth of the flour in muffin or pancake batter.
  • Add to cooked fruit desserts like baked apples or blueberry compote.
  • Sprinkle in your favorite sandwich filling, such as tuna or chicken salad.
  • Add to cream cheese or sprinkle on a soft cheese and enjoy with some whole grain crackers for a blood sugar-friendly snack.

Perfect Portion: 1 to 2 tablespoons
A tablespoon or two a day, ground and blended into other foods, could do wonders for your blood sugar control and overall good health. You can also mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed into a glass of water and drink it.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest