Q. Why is flaxseed good for you—and what are easy ways to eat it?

A. Flaxseed is an essential fatty acid superstar. It's especially valuable as a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, the kind found in fish oil. Studies have linked omega-3 fatty acids to a lower risk of heart disease, depression, asthma, arthritis, and lupus.

Flaxseed also provides a healthy dose of fiber. Thus, it acts as a mild laxative. Research shows fiber can help reduce cancer risk (both breast and colon), lower blood cholesterol levels, and improve blood sugar control for diabetics.

When shopping, you'll choose between whole flaxseed—small, oval-shaped brown seeds—or flourlike, ground flaxseed. (Flaxseeds must be ground for optimal digestibility, so if you buy whole, simply grind the desired amount in a coffee grinder before use.) The fatty acids in flaxseeds are perishable, so store the seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Mild-tasting flaxseed is an easy addition to lots of foods you probably are already eating. Add the ground seed to cold cereal, mix it into yogurt, sprinkle it on top of salads, or stir it into mustard for a sandwich spread. Or simply include it when baking cookies, muffins, or bread (it won't alter the taste or texture). If you're adding a small amount, don't worry about adjusting the dry-ingredient measurements—but keep in mind that flaxseed is oil-rich, so it can take the place of a bit of the called-for oil or butter.

Aim to eat 1 or 2 teaspoons of ground flaxseed daily—you'll be reaping 1 gram of omega-3s, enough to make a healthy difference throughout your body.

This Q&A was written by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, author of the The Soy Sensation (McGraw-Hill, 2002) and The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998).