Let’s talk about lignans.
You know about the benefits of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. You know that your diet should be rich in all three.
But did you know there’s one simple addition you could make to your diet that would give you antioxidants, omega-3s, and fiber—plus phytoestrogens and a whole lot more?
This amazing food has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, lower cholesterol, decrease inflammation, help with weight loss, and support women going through menopause. 
It’s cheap, takes seconds to prepare, and can be stirred into smoothies and soups as an invisible health-booster.
What is it?
I know, I know. Every day, there’s a new “miracle food” hyped on the airwaves. What makes flaxseed any different?
Perhaps because flax has played a major role in human history.
It was one of the earliest cultivated crops. Ayurvedic practitioners recommended consuming flax to fight fatigue and combat aging, while Egyptians used it to produce the finest linen cloth. Flaxseed oil was a popular remedy for everything from kidney disorders to freckles in the Middle Ages.
But our ancestors didn’t know about lignans or phytoestrogens. And that’s where the science behind flaxseed has really flourished.
Lignans are plant compounds found in a range of seeds, berries, vegetables and whole grains. They’ve been found to protect against hormone-related cancers and free radical damage. Their benefits for menopausal women are even greater, as they help preserve bone density and reduce hot flashes.
Although you can get lignans from a variety of dietary sources, the amount is too small in most foods to be of any benefit. A serving of kale, for example, only provides 0.8mg of lignans.
That’s where flaxseed comes in.
A 1-ounce serving of flaxseed provides a whopping 85.5mg of lignans. It’s by far the richest source. The closest alternatives are sesame, sunflower, poppy and pumpkin seeds.
Flaxseed is gluten free, inexpensive, easy to find, and extremely versatile. It has a faintly nutty taste and can be added just about anywhere: pancake batter, yogurt, oatmeal and soups.
You can even use it as a vegan substitute for eggs in baking. Just mix 1 Tbsp of ground flaxseed with 3 T water and set in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before using.
(Fun fact: Ever wondered what the difference is between omega-3 eggs and conventional eggs? Omega-3 eggs are laid by hens fed flaxseed.)
One of the biggest proponents of flaxseed is women’s health expert Dr. Christiane Northrup. In her book The Wisdom of Menopause, she encourages women to consume ¼ cup of ground flaxseed daily to provide hormonal support.
Most experts suggest taking half that amount (2 tablespoons/day), however, because flaxseed is extremely high in fiber and can cause bloating. Although the fiber in flaxseed is easier to digest than the fiber in wheat bran, you need to ensure you’re drinking plenty of water along with it.
What’s the best kind of flaxseed to buy?
There are two kinds of flaxseed, brown and golden. Both offer the same health benefits, although golden flaxseed is often considered better-tasting. Look for North Dakota flaxseed (the state is the leading producer of flaxseed in the U.S.) or Canadian flaxseed.
You can purchase flaxseed in three forms: as whole seeds, ground, and as an oil.
Each form has its drawbacks. Whole flaxseed is hard to digest. Ground flaxseed goes rancid quickly. Flaxseed oil lacks the beneficial fiber and lignans found in the whole seed.
So the best solution is to purchase whole flaxseeds and grind just enough for daily use in a coffee grinder. To avoid cleaning your coffee grinder each time you use it, you may want to purchase an inexpensive grinder solely for that purpose.
Whole flaxseeds don’t need to be refrigerated, but the ground seeds do. If you keep ground flaxseed for any length of time, store it in an opaque container in the back of the fridge to protect it from light and heat.
Who shouldn’t use flaxseed?
Avoid flaxseed if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Check with your doctor before adding flaxseed to your diet if you have an inflammatory bowel condition, fibroids, endometriosis, or polycystic ovary disease.
But other than that, all women 40 years of age or older should consider making a new morning habit:
Grind a scoop of flaxseed, dump it in your oatmeal or yogurt or smoothie, and sail on with your day.
See how far flaxseed takes you!