Flax is an extremely hot topic right now, as there is much research and media focused on this functional food. Flaxseed provides many essential nutrients; specifically, it is rich in fibre, omega 3-fatty acids, and lignans. Flaxseeds are the richest sources of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen which may protect against cancer, specifically breast and prostate, both of which are hormone sensitive cancers.
What Are the Benefits of Flax?
There are three main parts of the flaxseed that provide health benefits: fibre (both soluble fibre and insoluble fibre), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)/omega 3-fatty acid, and lignans.
Flaxseed has been shown to be beneficial for one’s health, for proper infant growth and development, constipation prevention, heart health, autoimmune disease, inflammation, and potentially for cancer risk reduction.
How Much Should I Consume?
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) states the adequate intake for alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega 3-fatty acid found in flaxseeds, is 1.6 grams per day for men; and 1.1 grams per day for women. One tablespoon of flaxseed is generally enough to obtain these levels.
The Different Types of Flax
Many people question whether to buy organic or non-organic flaxseeds. According to the Flax Council of Canada, all flax that is clean and that comes from a reputable supplier is considered to be safe for consumption.
Whole flaxseeds – When the flaxseed is eaten whole, you will receive the benefits of the fibre and the lignans. In order to get the omega 3-fatty acid benefit of the flaxseeds, you must chew the seeds very well or grind them. In terms of storage, whole flax seeds can be kept at room temperature for up to 10 months.
Ground flaxseeds or flax meal – All nutritional benefits (omega 3-fatty acids, fibre, and lignans) of flaxseeds are obtained when eaten ground. Ground flaxseeds are best stored in the fridge or freezer for no longer than 3 months after opening. If grinding the seeds yourself, grind as needed to prevent spoilage. There are approximately 1.6 grams of omega 3-fatty acids in 1 tbsp of ground flaxseeds.
Flax oil – Flax oil is extracted from the whole flax seed. It is sold as oil or in gel supplements. It is best to keep flax oil in a cool, dark place – ideally in the refrigerator. It is an excellent source of omega 3-fatty acids, but it contains neither the lignans nor the fibre, as they are removed during the process of oil extraction. For storage length, look at the manufacturers’ best before date. There are approximately 7.2 grams of omega 3-fatty acids in 1 tbsp of flax oil.
To obtain the benefits of the entire flaxseed, the best form is the ground flaxseed/flax meal.
Experiment with Flax…How to incorporate it Into the Diet
- Add 1 tbsp of ground flax seed to your cereal, yogurt, applesauce, casseroles, pasta, or soup.
- Add ground flax seeds to home-baked goods, such as muffins, cakes, cookies, or breads.
- Replace other oils and margarine/butter with flax seed oil. Use for salad dressings, marinades, and on potatoes or vegetables.
Flax has been enjoyed for thousands of years throughout the world. The first record of people using flax dates back to 5000 BC where burial chambers of southern Mesopotamia displayed flax as an important part of ancient life. As flax spread throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and eventually to North America, it grew in popularity. Today flax is used as an additive in a wide variety of products such as paint and biodegradable linoleum, or used on its own as a nutritional food item, or even processed into fabric. The diversity of the flax plant is unmistakable. Canada is currently one of the world leaders in flax production and trade.