Flax Seed – a Health Food Fad or a Powerful Super Food?

Flax seed has been a food source since ancient times, as far back as 3000 BC. During that time it was believed to have powerful nutritional qualities, and modern research is starting to substantiate that old belief.

Flax Seed

Although research is ongoing, there are indications that consuming flax seed could possibly reduce the risk of lung disease, heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

Here is the nutrition profile and the reasons for its growing reputation as a powerful food:

  • Flax seed contains a high amount good fat in the form of Omega-3 essential fatty acids (or alpha-linolenic acid, also known as ALA). Surprisingly, one tablespoon of milled flax seed contains 1.8 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Flax seed contains more lignans than other plant foods. Lignans have both antioxidant and plant estrogen (phytoestrogen) qualities.
  • In terms of antioxidants – flax seeds are one of the most antioxidant rich foods. This is beneficial for reducing oxidative stress, fighting free radicals that cause cell damage, and keeping your immune systems healthy.
  • Flax seeds have an anti-inflammatory effect from the Omega-3s. This is very beneficial, as many health professionals consider inflammation to be the root cause of a large number of chronic illnesses.
  • Flax seed is loaded with fiber – both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is beneficial for your cholesterol level and your digestion. One Tbsp contains 2 grams of dietary fiber.
  • The compound effect of the Omega-3 fatty acids, the lignans and the fiber in flax seed has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels.
  • The Omega-3s and the lignans could also contribute to good heart health by helping to prevent hardening of the arteries, and possibly restoring the heart’s natural rhythm.
  • Consuming flax seed could help reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.
  • Flax seed contains protein: 2.5 grams per 2 Tbsp milled flax seed.
  • Other important nutrients that flax seed contains: phosphorous, selenium, manganese, magnesium, copper, and vitamin B1.

Whole flax seed, ground flax seed, or flax seed oil – which is best?

  • Whole flax seeds will remain whole as they pass through the digestive system because the body cannot break down the tough outer coating of the seeds. On the way through it could still provide some fiber, but the body will not be able to extract the nutrition from the whole seeds. Flax seeds can easily be ground in a coffee grinder, or purchased as ground seeds.
  • Ground flax seed, milled flax seed and flax meal are all the same thing and are generally available in health food stores. Your body is able to get the full nutrition out of flax seed that has been ground or milled.
  • There are two colors of milled flax seed: brown or golden. The color doesn’t have any bearing on the nutrition – they essentially have the same nutrition.
  • Flax seed oil is only one component of the flax seed – the fiber and protein have been removed. According to WebMD “flaxseed oil can easily break down chemically if exposed to light, heat, or air. Flaxseed oil should be stored in a frosted bottle and protected from heat. It can be stored in the refrigerator.”

Storing and using flax seed –

  • What is the best way to store it? Milled flax seed should be kept in the refrigerator or in the freezer. This will slow down oxidation (rancidity) and the loss of nutrients. Milled flax seeds will keep up to 3 months in the fridge, and slightly longer in the freezer.
  • Can milled flax seed be heated (such as in baking) and still maintain the nutritional benefits? Good news! Studies have shown that milled flax seed does not lose its beneficial effects from the omega 3 fatty acids when used at high temperatures. So use it to your heart’s content in muffins, pancakes, cookies, stews, and casseroles.

Are there any cautions about consuming flax seed? Yes….

  • It is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women because of the estrogen-like properties of the lignans.
  • Due to the high fiber content, it may be best to start off eating a small amount and increase it slowly to avoid digestive discomfort. This is particularly true for people who have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water when consuming flax seeds, as they will absorb water.

 

All in all, flax seed stacks up as one powerful food – much more than a fleeting health food fad. It has been around for centuries and it looks like it’s here to stay! While research continues to find out more about the potency of this little seed, the many nutritional components that have already been documented are certainly helpful in building optimal health.

Are you interested in making easy, sustainable changes in your dietary lifestyle? Are you serious about losing weight, increasing energy and building your health? Contact me to find out how Health Coaching can help you reach your health goals.

 

Informational Resources:

WebMD

World’s Healthiest Foods 

About.com

Dr. Oz Show

 

 

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