If you’ve been shelling out dough for flax seed-laden foods—or just for the seeds themselves—you may not be getting all the heart-healthy benefits that you were hoping for.
It’s true—flax seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s worth adding them to weeknight meals, like this classic meatloaf and this freshly seared fish.
But note that both of those recipes call for ground flax seeds. This is because you have to grind flax seeds before eating or cooking with them.
Brierley Horton, MS, RD, explains that the human body doesn’t fully digest whole flax seeds. In order for you to get all the heart-healthy benefits that flax seeds provide, you have to break them down first, whether you chop them or grind them into your meals.
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As Cooking Light‘s nutrition director, Horton has long championed delicious dishes that incorporate a flax seed-boost given that each tablespoon has more than 2 grams of protein at less than 30 calories, plus all those lovely omega-3s.
There’s a few ways you can optimize your flax seeds for the greatest health payoff: Use a handheld mill, a traditional spice grinder, or even the mortar and pestle you might have lying around.
Maybe you don’t have a mortar and pestle, but you’d still like to reap the rewards that a flax-seed-inspired dish can provide? You can just buy them already ground. However, there’s a benefit to grinding them fresh: Horton explains that pre-ground flax seed isn’t as potent as freshly ground seeds. Why? Many of the healthy compounds begin to oxidize after the seeds are ground, so it’s best if you can eat it within 24 hours of grinding.