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.

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