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The Benefits of Flaxseed

by Ilana Katz MS, RD, LD

It is no wonder that there is an increasing interest in flaxseed –studies show that flaxseed may help fight everything from heart disease and diabetes to even breast cancer.

Flaxseed is very high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, the good fats that aid in lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar, lower the risk of certain cancers, and reduce the inflammation of arthritis, as well as the inflammation that accompanies certain illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and asthma.

In addition to the omega-3s, the remaining two components of flaxseed, lignans and fiber, have health benefits as well. Both act as phytoestrogens and antioxidants, while the fiber contained in the flaxseed is of both the soluble and insoluble type. Omega-3 fat is referred to as an “essential” fat because it is not produced by the body, and must thus be consumed. Other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids other than flaxseed, include fatty fishes such as salmon and mackerel. The difference the fatty acids from fish are that although they are still vital for good health, they are not “essential” fatty acids, as the body does produce them. All the fatty acids, those from flaxseed (alpha-linolenic acid) and those from fish (EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA or docosahexaenoic acid) decrease inflammation, which is a trigger for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis. Flax is unique in that it also is a rich source of lignans, phytoestrogens that may reduce risk of cancer, as well as a rich source of fiber, which lowers cholesterol and maintains digestive health. Although fish doesn't have these benefits, it is also a good source of protein. Fish, particularly those that contain the Omega 3 fatty acids, are also prone to contain traces of mercury, and the FDA advises consumers to check the advisory boards for high mercury sources in fish, particularly women who are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant as well as parents of young children, to avoid these populations from eating certain fish.

Sports dietitians are also including flaxseed as a daily recommendation to athletes because it has been found to improve the metabolism of fats, especially helpful with endurance sports. When glycogen stores run out (hitting the wall, or bonking), the body begins burning fats in which case, an efficiency of fat burning can make a difference in performance. Omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseed improves response time. Electrical impulses move from the brain to muscles across cell membranes are rich in these essential fats. Omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds are the most efficient fatty acids in allowing these electrical impulses to move from cell to cell. Furthermore, they aid in muscle repair at the cellular level, significantly improving the rate and quality of tissue repair.

Flaxseed is available in supermarkets and health food stores and comes in whole seeds, ground seeds, or oil. The ground seed is what has all the goodness - the fiber, the lignans, and the essential fatty acids, while whole seeds will pass through your system undigested.

The recommended daily amount of flaxseed is approximately 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed, or 1 teaspoon of flax oil (which is best used cold, perhaps mixed in a vinaigrette salad dressing). Whole flax seed should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Storing it in the refrigerator or freezer is a safe bet.

Using flaxseed effectively:

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 A high fiber diet may take some time to get used to, so start to slowly introduce flax.

For vegans, or people with egg allergies, flaxseed can be used as an egg substitute in recipes for baked goods This is because of the soluble fiber, which adds structure to the food.

Some tips to incorporate flaxseed in your daily intake:

Sprinkle ground flax on cereal, yogurt, or salads. Mix flax into meatloaf or meatballs.
Add ground flax to pancake, muffin, or cookie batter, or other baked goods such as pie crust. Coat fish or homemade chicken nuggets in ground flaxseed and oven fry.
Toss salads with flax oil and vinegar.

Nutty Health Toast

Mix a Tbsp of the ground seeds with 2 Tpsps of honey, and then spread the mixture on toast. It has a nutty flavor, and is a great alternative to buttering your toast.

Flax Trail Snack

Per Serving ( ¼ cup ): : 160cals, 6g fat, 15g carbs, 2g fiber, 6 g protein.

1 cup sugar free maple syrup
1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, etc)

½ cup sliced almonds, ½ cup pecan pieces
1 cup ground flax
4 cups of oats

Mix together the syrup, sugar and extract in a pot over low heat until melted and smooth. Add other ingredients to the pot and stir. Spray a baking tray with Pam. Toast at 3000 for an hour, mix around every 15 minutes.