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Lignans: The Best Dietary Sources

Dr. Kristie Leong 

Have you heard about the health benefits of lignans? Lignans are plant-based compounds that have weak estrogen-like properties. They’re beneficial because they compete with estrogen receptors on breast tissue and block the binding of more powerful estrogens. Because of this estrogen-blocking effect, many experts believe lignans lower the risk of breast cancer. With such an important benefit, it’s not surprising that many women want to get more of these breast-healthy lignans in their diet. What are the best dietary sources of lignans?

Sources of Lignans: These Two Top the List

The two best sources of lignans are flaxseed and sesame seeds. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to add more of either to your diet.

To get the health benefits of lignans, they have to be in a form the body can absorb. Flaxseed should be ground before eating it. If not, it simply passes through the digestive system whole without offering benefits.

The best way to prepare flaxseed is to grind it in a grinder until it has the consistency of a coarse powder. Then sprinkle it on cold or hot cereal, or add it to baked goods, soups, vegetables, salads or yogurt. As little as two tablespoons a day is all it takes to get the health benefits of flaxseed, although studies show it takes up to four tablespoons a day to reduce menopausal hot flashes - another benefit of lignans.

Sesame seeds are another good source of lignans although they only have around one-tenth the amount that flaxseed does. Sesame seeds can be used in much the same way as flaxseed, and they have the same nutty taste and added crunch. Sesame oil is also a source of lignans with the darker oils having greater amounts. Sesame oil isn’t the best way to get lignans since heating it destroys some of the lignans, and it’s also high in calories.

Other Sources of Lignans

The amount of lignans in flaxseed and sesame seeds is far greater than that in other sources, but cruciferous vegetables, whole, grains and red wine have decent amounts too. Cruciferous vegetables may also reduce the risk of breast cancer because of other anti-cancer and estrogen-modifying compounds they contain.

Sources of Lignans: The Bottom Line?

If you want the health benefits of lignans, add more flaxseed and sesame seeds to your diet. They’re two of the best sources of lignans around.

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2010-2023. Dr. Kristie Leong is a family practice physician and medical writer. Published with permission.

References: World’s Healthiest Foods. British Journal of Nutrition. 93(3): 393-402.