Not just for Uncle Sam
Until recently, many of us had only seen flaxseed in that cereal named after a patriotic “uncle”, and even then we may not have known that those tiny, dark brown seeds were flax. The main purpose of including flax seeds in that particular cereal was for the laxative effect that the seeds have, especially when eaten whole.
However, everything changed a few years ago when flax seed became the latest “super food.” Whether you buy the tastier, and usually more expensive, golden flax or the standard brown flax, you are getting a substantial nutritional powerhouse, especially if you grind the seeds before you eat them.
Interesting Fact: As far as we know, the flax plant originated in the Fertile Crescent in ancient times. The plant was and is used to produce linen fabric—you know that fabric that is so comfortable to wear in summer, if you don’t mind how easily it wrinkles! The use of the flax seed for medicinal and culinary purposes shows up in ancient Greece and Rome and later spread across Medieval Europe. Eventually, flaxseeds were introduced into North America, where they are now also extensively cultivated.So what exactly are the benefits of eating flax?
Omega-3 fatty acids
Flax is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which have been shown to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol, especially the LDL or “Lousy” type. There is also evidence that these Omega-3 fatty acids may help lower blood triglycerides and blood pressure, as well as promote bone health. These ALA’s are used by the body to produce substances that are anti-inflammatory, and therefore useful in keeping you healthy and feeling well, since inflammation is the underlying cause of many serious disorders and diseases.
Interesting Fact: You may have heard that you need to get your Omega-3's from animal sources, but vegetarians can get their essential Omega-3 fats from walnuts, flaxseed and chia seed. These foods are sources of linolenic acid and not DHA another important Omega-3 fat. Since linolenic acid is the essential fatty acid, as long as you are getting enough of this one, your body can produce the other Omega-3 fats that it needs. However, there is algae that can provide a vegetarian source of DHA, a non-essential fatty acid, and this is available in supplement form, if you are concerned.
With all of the recent concerns about hormone replacement therapy (HRT), there has been a real interest in the subject of “lignans,” phyotestrogenic compounds that are found in abundance in flaxseeds. These lignans seem to provide protection against hormone –sensitive cancers such as breast cancer. In addition, there is some evidence that for post-menopausal women, lignans can provide some protection against heart disease—a benefit formerly attributed to HRT—and help to alleviate some of the undesirable effects of that time of life, such as hot flashes and osteoporosis.
Men may benefit from the addition of lignan-rich flax seeds to their diet, since studies have shown that flaxseed may help stop tumor growth in the case of prostate cancer.
Lignans may also decrease insulin resistance, a factor that may provide protection against Type II diabetes.
Fiber has been the watchword in nutrition circles for a number of years and for good reason. In addition to promoting good digestion and elimination, fiber can contribute to a healthy colon and decreased exposure to harmful toxins. Sufficient fiber in the diet has also been associated with decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and irritable bowel syndrome. Flax is a great source of fiber, at about 2 grams per Tablespoon.
Minerals and Vitamins
Flax is a good source of some important minerals including Manganese,Copper, Magnesium and Phosphorus as well as Vitamin B6 and Folate. For more information on these nutrients, click on the Vitamins and Minerals buttons.
How do I use flax seed?
The best way to use flax is to buy it in bulk and grind it yourself, as needed, using a small electric coffee grinder. Since flax starts to deteriorate as soon as it is ground, it will have the maximum benefit if you grind it yourself. If you eat the seeds whole, they will mostly just go right through you, providing a laxative effect, but not much nutrition.
Sprinkle freshly ground flax seeds on cereal, yogurt, in juice or in smoothies.
Grind flax and add to baked goods in place of a small portion of the flour. I use about ½ cup in pancakes and muffins and ¾ cup in a two-loaf bread recipe. You can experiment and see what works best for you.
Sprinkle ground flax seeds on cooked vegetables for extra flavor and nutrition.
Suggestion: Clean your grinder each day using a small paint brush or soft cloth. Washing it with water will shorten its lifespan.
Where can I buy flax?
Due to its recent upswing in popularity, flaxseed is available in the health food sections of many grocery stores. You can also buy it online through many outlets.
Flaxseed comes in a golden variety, which is milder in flavor and also, purportedly, higher in nutritional value, and a brown variety.
Caveat: Although, flaxseed is good for you, as with any food, you can get too much of a good thing so, don’t overdo it. Two Tablespoons each day is sufficient to get the benefits without any adverse effects. In the beginning, to avoid digestive disturbance, you may want to start with a teaspoon and work your way up to two Tablespoons.
There are many anecdotal stories of people who have benefited from adding flaxseed to their diet. In addition, scientific studies are ongoing about the effect of flaxseed in preventing and treating disease. What we know for sure is that flax seed is a whole, unprocessed food that can enhance your diet in a variety of ways to help keep you healthy and feeling well.
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