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Flax seed: the best two bites for your health

Flax seeds are the Mighty Mouse of food, smaller than a rice kernel, yet the most powerful two tablespoons of food you can put in your mouth. These tiny seeds help to combat cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, autoimmune and neurological conditions and aid in weight loss. They may even help improve symptoms of psoriasis and menopausal hot flashes. And all you need for this benefit is two measly tablespoons a day. That’s a powerful punch!

History of flax seed

Flax dates to over 30,000 years ago when the fiber from the plant stem was used to make clothing. In ancient Egypt, the fiber was used to make linen for priests and the Romans purchased it for their sails. Linseed oil, which comes from a type of flax seed, is used for finishing furniture and linseed meal, ground flax seed with the oil removed, is used for to feed livestock.

Nutritional value of flax seed

But it wasn’t until about 20 years ago research showed the nutritional value of flax seed. Flax seed is high in Alpha linolenic acid (a type of Omega 3), lignans (a polyphenol that reduces inflammation) and fiber. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is converted in the body to two other essential fatty acids: EPA and DHA and we can only get these from certain foods.

ALA, EPA and DHA are the primary omega-3 fatty acids studied that show significant health benefits. Flax protein is known to help with heart disease and boost the immune system.

Focus on unsaturated fats, but get the right ratio

It’s important to consume more unsaturated fats from plant based foods and fish, and much less saturated fat and trans-fat from dairy, red meat and processed foods.

But it’s also important to get the proper balance of unsaturated fats in the diet. Unsaturated fats consist of mono-unsaturated fat or MUFA’s found in olive oil, nuts, avocado’s and poly-unsaturated fat or PUFA’s which include both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

The American diet tends to be high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which contributes to inflammation, and much lower in Omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acid is found in many foods vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains and seeds. Whereas Omega-3’s are much harder to get because they are found primarily in cold water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, fresh tuna and flax seed.

Keep this in mind when adding flax seed to your diet

You can have too much of a good thing. Eating more than a couple of tablespoons of ground flax seed can increase your exposure to some toxins and constipate you.

You should not consume flax seed at the same time you take supplements or certain medication such as cholesterol-lowering meds, blood sugar-lowering meds or anticoagulants. You may want to discuss with your health care provider first.

Add flax seed to your diet

Flax seed is now added to many food products like pasta, cereal, crackers and chips, so consider those other sources when adding ground flax seed to your diet. WebMD and most research recommends about 2 tbsp daily or 30 gms a day. Here are some good sources of ALA, EPA and DHA:

sources of flax

You also want to keep this in mind:

  1. To get full nutritional benefit, you want to grind it in a coffee grinder or buy it ground. There are some cereals, like Uncle Sam’s that contain the whole seed.  You can still reap the health benefits if you fully chew each mouthful (a wonderful way to slow down eating!).
  2. Keep ground flax seed in the fridge or freezer since the natural oils are more exposed to air and can go rancid.
  3. Bake with it by replacing some of your flour with ground flax seed. I add it to my crisp topping, to my cakes and muffins and even to my meatloaf.
  4. Add a little at a time by putting it in your yogurt, your smoothie or your oatmeal.

Get your two tablespoons a day

You can find flax seed at most grocery stores but here in Maine I get mine at Christmas Tree Shop or Reny’s. I buy the whole flax seed, which does not need to be refrigerated, to put in my smoothie and I buy ground flax seed for baking.

I look at my daily dose of flax seed as one more health installment against my genetics. If it can help my arteries stay supple and reduce the free radicals that contribute to cancer and heart disease, then I’ll continue to chew, chomp and grind away my two tablespoons a day.

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