High in dietary fiber, rich in alpha-linolenic acid and brimming with antioxidant lignans, flaxseed helps maintain bowel regularity, promotes healthy cholesterol levels and protects against cardiovascular disease. Because these benefits are packaged in a hard seed coat that’s difficult to crack, however, whole flaxseed should be ground or milled into flaxseed meal for consumption.
What’s in a Label?
The words “ground” and “milled” can be used interchangeably to describe whole flaxseed that has been pulverized into fine granules, also known as flaxseed meal. Although the term “milled flaxseed” is often used on products that have been ground on a commercial scale, commercially processed flaxseed may also be labeled as ground flaxseed or flaxseed meal.
The high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids that make flaxseed so beneficial are also what give it a short shelf life, especially once it’s ground -- the oils in flaxseed meal have an increased surface area and are therefore more prone to oxidation and quick rancidity. Because heat speeds up the process, some companies produce “cold-milled” flaxseed, or flaxseed that’s been ground at room temperature. Cold-milled flaxseed has a longer shelf life than the traditionally milled variety, which is exposed to higher temperatures during processing.
To keep yourself from consuming rancid flaxseed meal, which may be inflammatory and potentially carcinogenic, it’s best to buy whole flaxseed and grind it in a food processor or dedicated coffee grinder as you need it. Unused flaxseed meal -- whether freshly ground or commercially milled -- should be stored in the freezer; if it smells like oil paint or crayons, it’s rancid.