Flaxseed


There's some evidence flaxseed may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. That's quite a tall order for a tiny seed that's been around for centuries.

Flaxseed was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC. In the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it. Now, thirteen centuries later, some experts say we have preliminary research to back up what Charlemagne suspected.

Health components of Flaxseed

Although flaxseed contains all sorts of healthy components, it owes its primary healthy reputation to three of them. Omega-3 essential fatty acids, "good" fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s. Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods. Fiber, flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types.

Omega-3s

Research suggests that plant omega-3s help the cardiovascular system through several different mechanisms, including anti-inflammatory action and normalizing the heartbeat. New research also suggests significant blood pressure-lowering effects of flaxseed. Those effects may be due to both the omega-3 fatty acids as well as the amino acid groups found in flaxseed. Several studies have suggested that diets rich in flaxseed omega-3s help prevent hardening of the arteries and keep plaque from being deposited in the arteries partly by keeping white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessels' inner linings.

Lignans

Most plant foods contain at least small amounts of phytonutrients called lignans. Lignans are unique fiber-related polyphenols that provide us with antioxidant benefits, fiber-like benefits, and also act as phytoestrogens. Among all commonly eaten foods, researchers now rank flaxseeds as the #1 source of lignans in human diets. Flaxseeds contain about 7 times as many lignans as the closest runner-up food (sesame seeds). They contain about 338 times as many lignans as sunflower seeds, 475 times as many as cashew nuts, and 3,200 times as many lignans as peanuts. Lignans in flaxseed have been shown to reduce atherosclerotic plaque buildup by up to 75%. In addition, the antioxidant benefits of flaxseed (from the lignans) have long been associated with prevention of cardiovascular diseases and have recently also been tied to decreased insulin resistance.

Fiber

A third unique feature of flaxseeds is their mucilage (gum) content. "Mucilage" refers to water-soluble, gel-forming fiber that can provide special support to the intestinal tract. For example, gums can help prevent the too rapid emptying of the stomach contents into the small intestine, thereby improving absorption of certain nutrients in the small intestine. Arabinoxylans and galactoxylans are included within the mucilage gums found in flaxseeds.

Recommended Daily Amount of Flaxseed

The optimum dose of flaxseed to obtain health benefits is not yet known. But 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day is currently the suggested dose, according to the Flax Council of Canada.

Tips for Using Flax Seed

Add flaxseed to a food you habitually eat. Every time you have a certain food, like oatmeal, smoothies, soup, or yogurt, stir in a couple tablespoons of ground flaxseed. Soon it will be a habit and you won't have to think about it, you'll just do it. The internet has many recipes for using ground flaxseed including muffins, breads and meat dishes.

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. 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.

Consuming Flaxseed

Buy it ground or grind it yourself. Flaxseed, when eaten whole, is more likely to pass through the intestinal tract undigested, which means your body doesn't get all the healthful components. If you purchase the whole seeds, you need to grind them up to get the benefit. If you want to grind flaxseed yourself, those little electric coffee grinders seem to work best.

Milled = ground = flax meal. Milled or ground flaxseed is the same thing as flax meal.

Storage of Flaxseed

Whole flaxseed keeps longer. The outside shell in whole flaxseed appears to keep the fatty acids inside well protected. It's a good idea to keep your whole flaxseed in a dark, cool place until you grind it. But as long as it is dry and of good quality, whole flaxseed can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.

Ground flaxseed should be kept refrigerated or frozen for longer storage times.

Safety

Until more is known, pregnant women and possibly breastfeeding mothers should not supplement their diets with ground flaxseed.

References

  1. http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/flaxinfo.htm
  2. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/benefits-of-flaxseed
  3. http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=81