Healthy Days and Nourishing Ways

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The flax plant, most likely originating in Asia, has been cultivated by a variety of cultures for thousands of years. It is a versatile plant that has been used for making cloth (linen), paint (from linseed oil), and food products (both oil and meal). More recently, flax has become an icon in the health food industry because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content of alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) and its richness of lignans. LNA is an essential fatty acid that is deficient in the diets of many; this deficiency has been linked to the development of degenerative diseases. Lignans have been found to contain antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anticancer properties.Let’s take a look at some things to consider about flax before deciding to make this part of a health regimen.
  • When purchasing flax oil, be sure it is in a dark bottle, is refrigerated, and has both “unrefined” and “cold expeller-pressed” on the label. Since it is a polyunsaturated fat, flax is very susceptible to rancidity once the seeds are broken. It is therefore best to buy flax oil in small quantities, store it in the refrigerator, and limit exposure to light, heat, and oxygen.
  • Flax oil can be used on cold foods, such as salads, or drizzled over cooked foods. Do not cook with or heat flax oil as this will destroy its nutritional properties and create toxins.
  • Flax seeds must be ground in order for the body to take advantage of their nutrients. Since flax seeds contain cyanogen, it is recommended that they be roasted (about 12 minutes in a 250 degree F oven) before grinding. Once ground, store the meal in a dark, airtight container in the freezer for up to a few weeks. Like the oil, freshly ground flax meal is highly perishable, so storage is important. It is not a good idea to purchase flax meal in the store since it is most likely already rancid.
  • Along with LNA and lignans, flax meal is a good source of fiber and mucilage, a natural laxative. The meal can be used to treat stomach and intestinal ailments including constipation. It is important to drink water when consuming flax meal since it absorbs about five times its volume of water.
  • Flax’s other nutrients include vitamins, such as some of the B vitamins, vitamins C and E and minerals, such as potassium and phosphorus. Flax also contains all of the essential amino acids and a small amount of the second essential fatty acid, linoleic acid (LA). Another plus for flax is that it is low in phytic acid which can block mineral absorption.
  • It is best not to consume too much flax because of its LNA richness which could lead to a fatty acid imbalance. It is usually recommended that no more than two tablespoons of flax oil or four to six tablespoons of flax meal daily be consumed. Flax is most beneficial when combined with a healthy, balanced diet.
Recommendation: If you are going to incorporate flax into the diet, purchase organic flax seeds, roast and grind them, and sprinkle the meal on things like nut butter sandwiches, ice cream, and salads, or mix into applesauce, yogurt, or pudding. The ground seeds, unlike the oil, provide all of the nutritional benefits that flax has to offer.