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Facts on Flax

Richest plant source for omega-3s

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Facts on Flax

From the cereals and baked goods we eat to the beauty products we use, flax is popping up everywhere. Why is this seed getting so much attention?

From the cereals and baked goods we eat to the beauty products we use, flax is popping up everywhere. Why is this seed getting so much attention?

Although flaxseed has recently been praised for its many health benefits, it has been around for more than 4,000 years. It was used by Hippocrates in 650 BC for the relief of intestinal discomfort. Today, research shows that this sweet and nut-flavoured seed provides essential nutrients, including protein (20 percent), essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and fibre that all help protect our health.

Why Eat Flax?

Omega-3 fatty acids: Flaxseeds are the richest plant source for omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). About 41 percent of the seed is oil, of which 57 percent is omega-3 and 16- percent is omega-6.

Omega-3 fats have been shown to protect against heart disease and cancer, improve immune function, fight inflammation, and help ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and depression. In a study at the University of Toronto, healthy women ate 50 grams of milled flaxseed a day for 4 weeks. Results showed that total blood cholesterol levels dropped by 9 percent and LDL (the bad one) decreased by 18 percent.

Lignans: Flaxseed is the richest known source of lignans, naturally occurring plant estrogens that are thought to relieve symptoms of menopause as well as protect against cancer of the breast, prostate, and colon. The shell of the flaxseed has a very high concentration of lignans, which are not present in significant amounts in flaxseed oil unless ground flaxseeds have been added to the oil.

Fibre: Flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, about three grams of total fibre per serving. Insoluble fibre helps improve laxation, prevent constipation, and reduce the risk for colon cancer. In the University of Toronto study, bowel movements of the participants increased by 30 percent per week while subjects consumed muffins with 50 grams of flaxseed daily for 4 weeks.

The soluble fibre in flaxseed is mucilage, a thick, sticky substance that can lower blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels.

Recommended Amounts

According to the Flax Council of Canada, a daily intake of about 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flax or 1 to 2 teaspoons of flax oil is likely to achieve the health benefits reported in clinical studies.

Flax Tips

  • Ground flaxseeds are more readily absorbed and easier to digest than whole.
  • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are sensitive to light and heat, so keep them refrigerated in an airtight, opaque container.
  • Sprinkle roasted, ground flaxseeds on cereals, yogourt, cottage cheese, salads or use them for baking breads, muffins, or cookies.
  • Add flax meal to casseroles such as pasta dishes and meat loaves or to breading on meats for baking.
  • Flaxseed oil is best used in cold foods such as salad dressings or smoothies.

References:

In a small study, postmenopausal women with breast cancer ate either a muffin with 25 grams of flaxseed oil or a plain muffin every day for five and a half weeks.

Results showed that 29 out of the 39 women who ate both muffins had reductions in the growth of their tumours.

Flaxseed shows promise against breast cancer.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research Newsletter. 1998 Winter, 59.

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