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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.

ten food musts

Ten Must Foods To Stock In Your Kitchen

Being empty nesters, my husband and I “wing-it” more often than not when it comes to mealtime in the summer in Maine.  We tend to eat simpler meals than the rest of the year.  For example, last nights meal consisted of a huge bowl of cut-up tomatoes from our garden combined with some fresh veggies, a scoop of low fat cottage cheese and a piece of whole grain toast.  Nothing fancy, but with freshly picked veggies from our garden, I was totally satisfied.  Making a quick health meal means always keeping key essentials around.  I have ten “must” foods that I always keep stocked in my kitchen so I can put together a quick meal that meets my requirements beyond just being tasty:  they must keep me full and must promote health.

How My List Promotes Fullness And Healthy

The key to fullness lies in getting enough fiber, protein and fat with each meal.  The key to making it healthy is getting both soluble and insoluble fiber, lean protein and heart healthy fat.

Fiber

Fiber increases biodiversity of microbes that boost our immune system and is linked to reducing the risk of many disease processes including irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and even the intestinal infection, C-difficile.   Fiber keeps us full, lowers cholesterol and improves blood sugars.  The Institute of Medicine recommends that women eat at least 25 gms and men 38 gms daily.  The average American consumes only 15 gms a day.  Foods high in both these kinds of fiber include fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, and a variety of whole grains.

Protein

Protein is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.  Our body doesn’t store protein like it does fat and carbohydrates, so we need to consume it regularly and in the right amount.  The Institute of Medicine recommends .8 gm per kilogram of weight for the average adult.  That means a 200 lb person should consume about 72 gms daily.  Some research indicates eating large amounts at once, does not benefit the body as well as eating smaller amounts throughout the day.  On average, an ounce of meat, poultry or fish will deliver about 6-7 gms of protein.  There is also protein in beans, whole grains, nuts and dairy.  The key is to move away from the artery-clogging saturated fat found in beef and most dairy and move more towards poultry, fish and low-fat dairy.

Healthy Fat

Dietary fat is needed for energy and cell growth.  It also helps the body absorb certain nutrients and produce certain hormones.  Fats have more than twice the amount of calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins.  Eaten in small amounts with the focus on heart-healthy types, it can help lower cholesterol, improve cardiovascular healthy and keep you fuller longer.  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that we consume less than 10% of our total daily calories from saturated fat and get most of our grams of fat from olive and canola oil, nuts, avocado and seeds.  Here is the good, bad and ugly on fats.

My Ten “Must” Food

My ten “must” foods list does not make a complete meal, but each item is an essential component of my daily diet and meets my criteria for helping with fullness and promoting health.

  1. Plain Fat Free Greek Yogurt – It’s high in protein with each 8 oz delivering 23 gms of protein – that’s equivalent to 3 1/2 oz meat, poultry of fish.  Plus it has probiotics that increase the good gut bacteria and are a good source of calcium for bone health.
  2. Low-fat cottage cheese – This is also high in protein with one half cup delivering 14 gms of fiber and is a good source of calcium.
  3. Cabbage – These crunchy leaves are a good source of fiber and sulforaphane, a compound associated with reducing the risk of cancer.  And red cabbage contains anthocyanin, a compound that can kill cancer cells.
  4. Flax seed – This is considered the most powerful plant food on the planet with 3 tbsp delivering 8 gms of fiber, 6 gms of protein, and loads of antioxidant lignans.  It has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
  5. Wasa crackers – Two of these whole grain crackers provides only 60 calories, 3 gms of fiber and are very low in sodium.  I use them as a foundation to put cottage cheese, sliced onions and olives on or to sandwich around a scoop of my next essential.
  6. Teddy peanut butter – With ingredients including only roasted peanuts and salt, peanut butter is a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber.  Peanut butter and nuts in general are linked to reduced risk of heart disease and alzheimers.
  7. Skim or 1% milk – This is one of the best sources of calcium while also providing 8 gms of protein.
  8. Barley – This delicious grain is one of the best sources of soluble fiber and a great alternative to rice.  A half cup of cooked barley delivers 8 gms of fiber and 5 gms of protein.  It’s also very high in potassium which lowers blood pressure, and has also been linked to reducing risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  Barley provides a high percentage of an individual’s daily requirement of manganese and selenium.
  9. Olive oil – This powerful anti-inflammatory reduces the body’s inflammatory markers and is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well.  Where you buy your extra virgin olive oil does matter – not all olive oil is what it says on the label.  Consider getting yours from California.
  10. Apple Cider Vinegar – When combined with extra virgin olive oil this makes a wonderful low calorie salad dressing, especially if you use a 2:1 ratio, vinegar to oil.  Apple cider vinegar is alkali and is known to reduce blood sugars.   Lowering post-meal blood sugars is very helpful for those with diabetes as well as those with insulin resistance (many people who carry excess weight around their belly have insulin resistance).  It has also been linked to weight loss, possibly by interfering with the breakdown of fats.  Taken with meals, apple cider vinegar interferes with the digestion of starches, allowing more for the good bacteria in our gut to enjoy.  The unfiltered apple cider vinegar is considered to be best.

I certainly don’t eat a perfect diet.  However, I believe the more I consume the foods on my list on a daily basis, the more I reduce my risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  And perhaps these items will make up for my occasional splurge on cookies, chips and cheese.  Life is not about being perfect, it’s about being better.  And these ten must foods might help you have better health too.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word