Today, is the beginning of an experiment in adding flax to my food as a dietary source of Omega 3, an essential oil that is sometimes lacking in our diet. Balancing these oils is considered beneficial in the fight against m.s. symptoms.
The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
- Thomas A Edison
Flax Seed: The Low Carb Whole Grain
Nutrition, Health Benefits of Flax Seed
Flax Seed NutritionYes, flax seed is high in most of the B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese, but this little seed is just getting started. There are three additional nutrient groups which flax seed has in abundance, and each has many benefits.
Flax Seed is Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are a key force against inflammation in our bodies. Mounting evidence shows that inflammation plays a part in many chronic diseases including heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and even some cancers. This inflammation is enhanced by having too little Omega-3 intake (such as in fish, flax, and walnuts), especially in relation to Omega-6 fatty acid intake (in oils such as soy and corn oil). In the quest to equalize the ratio of these two kinds of oils, flax seed can be a real help.
Most of the oil in flax seeds is alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is an Omega-3 that is a precursor to the fatty acids found in salmon and other fatty cold-water fish (called EPA and DHA). Because not everyone is able to easily convert ALA into EPA and (especially) DHA, it is best not to rely solely on flax for your Omega-3 intake. However, ALA also has good effects of its own, and definitely helps in the Omega 3/6 balance.
Flax Seed is High in Fiber: You’d be hard-pressed to find a food higher in fiber -- both soluble and insoluble -- than flax. This fiber is probably mainly responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effects of flax. Fiber in the diet also helps stabilize blood sugar, and, of course, promotes proper functioning of the intestines.
Flax Seed is High in Phytochemicals: Flax seed is high in phytochemicals, including many antioxidants. It is perhaps our best source of lignans, which convert in our intestines to substances that tend to balance female hormones. There is evidence that lignans may promote fertility, reduce peri-menopausal symptoms, and possibly help prevent breast cancer. In addition, lignans may help prevent Type 2 diabetes.
Note that a) flax seeds need to be ground to make the nutrients available (otherwise they just “pass through”) and b) flax seed oil alone contains neither the fiber nor the phytochemicals of whole flax seed meal.
Flax Seed Safety and Side EffectsConcerns about flax seed revolve around four potential issues. However, remember that a lot of research about the wonders of flax show little or no problems from eating it –- to the contrary, it has shown many benefits. Big Fiber Load: Since flax has such a high fiber content, it's best to start with a small amount and increase slowly; otherwise, cramping and a "laxative effect" can result. People with irritable bowel syndrome may have an especially strong reaction to it, and should be extra-careful.
Oxidation/Rancidity: The oil in flax is highly unsaturated. This means that it is very prone to oxidation (rancidity) unless it is stored correctly. The very best way is nature’s own storage system –- within the seed. Flax seeds not exposed to large amounts of heat stay safe to eat for at least a year. However, flax meal, and especially flax oil, are a different story. The meal, stored away from heat and light, will keep fresh for a few months, and the oil must be protected by refrigeration in dark containers, preferably being consumed within a few weeks of opening.
Actually, the surprising thing about flax is not that the oils go rancid, but that they don’t go rancid as quickly as we would think, considering how unsaturated they are. The oils are quite stable when the seeds are used in baked foods, for example. Researchers theorize that this is due to the high levels of antioxidants in the seeds.
Hormonal Effects: Lignans contain phytoestrogens. Although research has shown them to be beneficial so far, it is unknown what effect high doses of phytoestrogens might have.
Cyanide: Like many other foods (cashews, some beans, and others), flax contains very small amounts of cyanide compounds, especially when consumed raw. Heat, especially on dry flax seeds, breaks these compounds down. However, our bodies have a capacity to neutralize a certain amount of these compounds, and the U.S. government agencies say that 2 tablespoons of flaxseed (~3 T of flax meal) is certainly safe and is probably an “effective dose” for health purposes. Various researchers who have used up to 6 daily tablespoons of the seed in different studies indicate that the amount they were using was safe.
Selection, Storage, Tips, and Recipes:
Buying Flax Seeds: SelectionBoth brown and golden varieties of flax seeds are becoming easier to find, especially in health food stores. If you can't find them near you, try the links here: Where to Find Flax Seeds. The two varieties have similar nutrient composition. They are sold both in bulk and in packages.
Flax Seeds vs. Flax Seed Meal Whole flax seed stays fresh for up to a year if stored correctly. However, they will go rancid more quickly after being ground up into meal. For this reason, many people choose to buy whole flax seed and grind it into meal themselves (this takes seconds in a blender or coffee grinder). The meal can be purchased, but follow these guidelines:
- Purchase from a source where you’re sure there is rapid turnover.
- Ideally the meal should be refrigerated at the store.
- The bag should be opaque, as light will accelerate the meal going rancid.
- Vacuum-packed packaging is the best, because it prevents the meal from having contact with oxygen before opening.
Flax Seed StorageWhole flax seed should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Many people choose to store it in the refrigerator or freezer to be on the safe side. Flax meal should be stored in the freezer and used up within a few weeks.
Tips for Using Flax Seed
- Drink plenty of water. There is so much soluble fiber in flax that it is important to drink plenty of water when eating flax products, otherwise constipation may result.
- Remember to start slowly if you aren’t used to a high-fiber diet.
- If you purchase the whole seeds, you need to grind them up to get the benefit.
- Flax is often used as an egg substitute in baked goods for people who can’t or choose not to eat eggs. This is because of the soluble fiber, which adds structure to the food.
- About 2/3 to 3/4 cup of flax seed yields 1 cup of flax meal. With my grinder, it’s 3/4 cup, and my recipes reflect this.
Flax Recipes and Serving Suggestions:
- Raw or toasted: Sprinkle over cottage cheese, ricotta, yogurt, breakfast cereal; put in shakes (thickens them somewhat)
- Cooked in a hot cereal: For example, try Hot Flax Peanut Butter Cereal or Hot Pumpkin Cereal
- Cooked into other foods: For example, meatloaf, meatballs, or casseroles.
- In baked goods: Add a few tablespoons to any recipe, or try the following, which rely on flax as a flour:
Flax Seed Health Benefits and Safety Issues - Flax Seed Nutrition