Monday, September 15, 2014

The Power of Flax

It’s been a little while since I last posted a research piece. Honestly, these pieces often are very time consuming. On top of this, I realized that more recipes were needed. It’s one thing to tell you why you should eat healthy, but it seems impractical to not also show you how to do so.  

Flax seed has been around for quite some time. Treasured for it’s medicinal uses throughout the Roman Empire, it was also one of the first “health foods” used by Hypocrites. In fact, whenever I’m asked for a recommendation for a single healthy food to include into a diet, flax seed always makes the short list of possible contenders. But why is flax so well regarded?

Flax are available almost everywhere in the US and are relatively cheap – typically just $2 a pound. They’re two main verities, gold and brown. They are essentially the same nutritionally so either is just fine.

Now because the seeds have a strong fibrous outer shell, our bodies are often unable to digest them and access their full benefits. It is possible to chew them, but it is much simpler to just buy pre-ground flax seeds, or toss the whole flax seeds into a blender or coffee grinder and give them a few pluses. If you grind them yourself, you’ll want to keep them refrigerator or frozen to prevent them from going rancid. They will last several months in the fridge. 

The seeds are powerhouses of nutrition. While Hypocrites didn't have the details, he was clearly onto something. They are one of the richest sources of lignans. Lignans are a type of antioxidant that have been demonstrated to have a multitude of positive health effects. Some of them include the ability to help regulate hormone levels, they help support the immune system, can inhibit certain enzymes from becoming free radicals and may help reduce the stress hormone cortisol among others.

They also contain iron, zinc, copper, calcium, protein, magnesium, folate, and even a trace mineral known as boron that helps bone health. They also help decrease the amount of estrogen, which may help lower breast cancer risk.

On top of this, just 7 grams of ground flax seeds (roughly 1 tablespoon) contains 1.6 grams of Omega 3 fatty acid. That represents the recommended daily dose of Omega 3. To make flax seeds even more appealing, they have just .4 grams of Omega 6 (another essential fatty acid, that most people simple get way too much of.) This means the important Omega 3 to 6 ratio is a great .25. Chia seeds by comparison have .3 grams of omega 6 per 1.6 grams of omega 3, meaning that flax seeds actually has the more favorable omega ratio. Flax seeds are also far cheaper, so per dollar, you are getting more for your buck!

Flax also helps control our cholesterol and blood pressure levels and has also been shown to help with hot flashes in menopausal women.

Honestly, one tablespoon of ground flax seeds daily is one of the best foods you can include in your diet. Because they have such a neutral taste, you can use them in almost any way you desire, but heating them will destroy some of the nutrients so try and include some in their raw, ground state. I sprinkle them on my morning oats and in smoothies as well as on top of salads and pastas. You can also see this post about how to use flax as a replacement for oil in many recipes. 

G.K. Paschos et. all. “Dietary supplementation with flaxseed oil lowers blood pressure in dyslipidaemic patients.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61 2007.

Jeff Novick, “Nuts?” on McDougall Form Jan. 8, 2008.

Zhang, Wang, et. all. “Effects of dietary flaxseed lignan extract on symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Journal of Medical Food, 11 2008.

Zhang, Wang et. all. “Dietary flaxseed lignana extract lowers plasma cholesterol and glucose concentrations in hypercholesterolaemic subjects. British Journal of Nutrition. 99 2008.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Oil-free Baked Falafel

In my last post, I shared a hummus recipe that got some really kind feedback, well today I’ve got another chickpea-based Middle Eastern inspired recipe: oil-free baked falafel.

As I mentioned in my post about mung beans, legumes are one of the healthiest foods available worldwide, and some recent research suggests that bean intake is the most important factor associated with longer lifespans! Not only this, but beans are some of the cheapest foods making their nutrition value a huge bang for the buck!

This falafel recipe is super easy, essentially fool-proof, and tastes phenomenal.

I’m also including a very basic tahini dressing recipe. This is one of those once-in-a-while foods. Tahini is a thick paste made from pulverized sesame seeds, which sounds healthy on its face. However, it is very high in calories with most of those calories coming from fat. Unfortunately, most of that fat comes from Omega-6, an essential fatty acid, but one that most westerners get too much of in relation to their Omega-3 consumption. It is also possible for tahini to oxidize as it ages, which can cause the release of free radicals in your body.

That said few things are so cut and dry. Tahini is rich in phosphorus, lecithin, magnesium, potassium and iron. It’s also a good source of methionine and very high in calcium. It also boasts vitamin E and many of the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5 and B15). Most tahini’s are around 20% protein as well. So feel free to weight the costs for yourself. If you’re healthy and fit, including tahini in your diet won’t have a negative impact on your health when consumed sparingly.

Oil-free Falafel:

1 ½ cups dried chickpeas
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
1 small sweet onion
1 cup fresh parsley (it’s important to use fresh for this recipe)
Juice from ½ of a lemon
1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax in 1 tablespoon of water)
Pinch of baking soda
1 tablespoon cumin
Black pepper and salt to taste

Soak the chickpeas overnight or for several hours. Try adding some citrus (like apple cider vinegar) to speed up the process and help with digestibility. Once the beans can be crushed by pinching them between your fingers they are ready. (Note: if you don’t have time to soak them, boil the chickpeas until they are about half cooked. Roughly 30 minutes).

Now, put all of the above ingredients into a food processor or hand held blender. Process until well combined and relatively processed, but not completely smooth. Stop the food processor and push the ingredients down towards the blends when needed. The entire mixture should turn into a light green from the parsley and have a pleasant cumin smell.
Now pre-heat the oven to 350 and line a large baking pan with parchment paper. Using a tablespoon, scoop out the mixture into small 2 inch balls and put onto the pan. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes and check. The falafel balls should begin to brown. Flip them over and return to the oven for another 8 – 10 minutes. Take out and let cool.

While the falafels are cooking making the tahini sauce.

Tahini sauce:

2 tablespoons tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
Onion powder
¾ cup water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until well combined and smooth.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.