Tiny but mighty, flaxseed is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. The seeds come from flax, one of the oldest crops in the world.
Flaxseed was first cultivated in Babylon in 3000 BC, followed by Egypt and China. King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flax seeds that he passed a law to make sure his subjects ate flaxseeds.
Flaxseeds are one of the best sources of lignan, an estrogen-like chemical compound that scavenges the free radicals in the body. It contains 750-800 times more lignans than other plant-based foods. A 100 grams serving provides 0.3 grams of lignan. Lignans promote fertility and reduce the peri-menopausal syndrome.
Flaxseeds have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The antioxidants in flaxseeds provide protection from cancer and heart diseases. Recent studies have concluded that flaxseeds can significantly lower the risk of developing breast, prostate and colon cancer.
* Highest plant source of omega-3 oils – The lignans present in flaxseeds have antigenic properties. They prevent the tumors from forming new blood cells. The seeds contain ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that inhibits tumor incidence and interferes with the growth and spread of cancer. Consumption of flaxseeds can also increase survival in breast cancer patients.
* Latin name (Linum usitatissimum) means “most useful”.
* Benefits heart, arteries, skin, hair, and brain health – The amino and omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds can significantly lower high blood pressure. A diet rich in flaxseeds can prevent hardening of the arteries. It also prevents the deposition of plaque in the arteries by keeping white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessels’ inner linings. Lignans in flaxseed reduce the atherosclerotic plaque buildup by 75%. It is also useful in treating irregular heartbeat. The alpha linolenic acid in flaxseeds protects the blood vessels from inflammatory damage.
* Great for gut because of the abundance of dietary fiber – Flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. The fiber present in flaxseeds improves the movement of food through the intestines. The mucilaginous fiber in flaxseeds also improves the intestinal absorption of nutrients. The soluble fiber dissolves in the water and creates a gel-like substance, keeping the stomach full for a longer time.
* Flax reduces hot flashes – A study published in 2007 found that consuming 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds in women could reduce their hot flashes by half. Flaxseed is a potential aid in managing peri-menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms.
* Dry skin can lead to several skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and other signs of ageing. The essential fatty acids in flaxseed keep the skin hydrated and moisturized. Regular intake of flaxseeds increases the body’s natural oil production, keeping the skin baby soft. A daily massage with flaxseed oil prevents irritants from entering the pores. It also locks moisture into the skin, keeping dryness at bay. A diet rich in flaxseeds may also protect the skin tissues from radiation. Researchers have found that flaxseeds significantly reduce skin damage after sun exposure. The antioxidants present in flaxseeds fight the free radicals, preventing skin cancer.
**There are conditions when you should avoid flax!**
* Flaxseeds may block the normal absorption of medicines.
Take medicines an hour or two before consuming flaxseeds. The seed and oil may react with painkillers, blood thinners and medicines for high blood pressure.
* Flaxseeds are extremely high in calories and can have a laxative effect if consumed in large quantities. People with irritable bowel syndrome can have a strong reaction to flax.
* People suffering from a seizure disorder should avoid flaxseed supplements as it can aggravate the condition.
* People taking blood thinning, blood sugar, topical steroids, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering medications should avoid eating flaxseeds.
* Flaxseeds contain small amounts of cyanide compounds, which can have neurotoxic effects in the body. They should not be consumed in large quantities. Heating the flax seeds can help break these compounds. Our body can also neutralize a certain amounts of these compounds. One or two tablespoons of ground flax seed is well within a normal, safe range.
* Pregnant and lactating mothers should not supplement their diet with ground flaxseed. It has estrogen-like properties that can affect the pregnancy outcome. It may also cause birth defects and spontaneous abortion in pregnant women.
* Drink plenty of water while consuming flaxseed, so that it does not swell up or obstruct the throat or digestive tract.
How to Buy
Flax comes in a variety of forms – whole flax seed, crushed and milled seeds. It also comes in an oil extracted from the seeds. Flax meal is ground flaxseeds. I like using the meal because the full seeds and oil do not absorb very well and your benefits will be limited.
* Use whole flax seeds in breading, or a tablespoon in smoothies, or mixed into cereals
* Milled flaxseed is used as a flour substitute or a thickening agent. It can be mixed into bread dough, pancake batter, in place of eggs in baking (one tablespoon of ground flax in three tablespoons water = one egg).
* Consume the oil as a daily health supplement added to smoothies, soups, drizzle on vegetables. (Do NOT cook with flax oil.)
There are two types of flax seeds, yellow and brown. The brown is typically used in animal feeds as the texture is rougher. The golden flax seed is widely considered to be the best for human consumption. The bulk flax that you find in the market should be in the cooler. You want to avoid flax that has been exposed to too much light or air.
I buy a sprouted ground flax seed. (I will discuss sprouting in a later posting. Sprouting gives you more nutritional value and better bio-availability than other forms.)
Flax can be found on the shelves in your local co-op in bags or in the cooler section of bulk products.
How to Store
How to Cook
* Never heat flax oil and always refrigerate.
* Flaxseeds are often used as an egg substitute in baked goods.
1 tablespoon of ground flax mixed into 3 tablespoons of water = 1 egg. The soluble fiber in this seed adds structure to the cake and muffins.
* Sprinkle ground flaxseeds over oats, cereals, yoghurt and smoothies.
* You can cook flaxseeds in casseroles, meatball and curries. Use 4 to 8 tablespoons of flaxseeds in a dish serving 6 to 8 people.
* Flaxseed also goes well with dosa, chapatti dough, buttermilk, chutney and upma.
* Add a teaspoon of ground flaxseed to your cheese spread or mayonnaise when making a sandwich.