This affordable item is very healthy—and recent research shows it may have a gut-health edge, too.  

Foods like kombucha and kimchi have become probiotic stars in the gut health industry, but recent research is showing fermented foods aren’t the only ones that can keep your gut clean and healthy. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests consuming flaxseed could help optimize gut health and help prevent obesity in the future.

Flaxseeds are often considered prebiotics, or “probiotic food,” due to their high fiber content. And in the body, prebiotic foods get broken down in the gut and end up providing good bacteria to the gut's microbiome, which has been linked to digestion, immunity, mood, and weight loss. This process is known as fermentation—and researchers set out to discover the fermentability of flaxseed in the body and how much of an impact it can have on overall gut health.

While this particular study didn't involve human subjects, researchers used mice, separated into four different groups, for their experiment. One group ate a standard diet containing 4.6 percent soy-based fiber as the control. The other three groups were put on high-fat diets with varying types and levels of fiber—none, 10 percent cellulose fiber, and 10 percent flaxseed fiber, respectively.

The mice were then examined for 12 weeks as researchers measured energy expenditure, food and beverage consumption, carbon dioxide production, and amount of oxygen used. The mices’ large intestinal bacteria were also examined at the end of this test period.

Results showed improved health across the board for those mice enjoying the flaxseed diet. The mice on the high-fat, 10 percent flaxseed diet were the most physically active, weighed less than the other high-fat groups, and even showed improved blood glucose levels than other groups.

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Overall, the flaxseed group also showed promise for improved digestive health, as researchers found that bacteria reacted positively to the shells of the flaxseeds themselves.

Researchers did note that more research should be done to better understand flaxseed’s impact on gut health in the future.

You can purchase flax seeds whole, in oil form, or most commonly, in meal form, at your local grocery store. Flaxseeds make a nutritious boost in your morning oatmeal or smoothie and also make an excellent replacement for eggs or bread crumbs in your favorite weeknight dinners.

The bottom line: Flaxseed has long enjoyed “superfood” status for its high fiber and omega-3 content. Flaxseed consumption is often related to improved cardiovascular health and decreased risk for certain cancers. While you should feel safe adding flax seeds to your routine, this study failed to provide direct correlation between flaxseeds and optimal gut health—but could soon be shown to provide even more benefits in the future.