Flax (AKA linseed) is a blue-flowering fibre crop that is grown in cooler regions of the world, such as the Canadian prairies, for its oil-rich seeds which are tiny, smooth and flat and range in colour from golden to reddish brown. Europe and North America depended on flax for vegetable-based cloth until the nineteenth century, when cotton overtook flax as the most common plant used for making linen paper. A discovery reported in 2009 of spun, dyed, and knotted wild flax fibers in a prehistoric cave shows that the plant was already in use by humans at the surprisingly early date of 30,000 BC.
This super tiny seed provides HUGE benefits for your diet.
First, flax is a great source of soluble fiber and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid linked to heart health. Each tablespoon of flax contains about 8 grams of fiber, which helps keep the bowels regular. Because of all the fiber, be sure to start slow (say, with a half-teaspoon) and build up. Otherwise, you may experience bloating.
Second, flax is a plant source of omega-3. These essential fatty acids (“essential” meaning they must be consumed because our bodies don’t make them) play an important role in the anti-inflammatory system of our body. Flax contains the shorter chain omega-3 called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Thus, it is not a replacement for fish or fish oil supplements that contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (ecosapentaenoic acid.)
Third, flax contains phytochemicals called lignans which reduce the risk of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. Lignans are active substances that exert a very weak estrogen-like action in the body. The lignans alter the way your body metabolizes estrogens into safer forms. As such, lignans are able to bind to breast cell receptors, thereby blocking the ability for a woman’s own estrogen to take the spot. (It’s believed that the longer breast tissue is exposed to estrogen that’s made in the body, the greater the chance for cells to become cancerous). Studies conducted in animals and men suggest that a flaxseed-enriched diet may also prevent prostate cancer. As if this wasn’t enough, flax has been shown to reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.
Remember to grind flax seeds before eating them, since whole flaxseed can pass through your intestine undigested which means you won’t reap the health benefits. Although you can purchase preground flaxseed, preground flax spoils, or oxidizes, quickly. If you do purchase it preground or preground in bulk for easy use, store ground flaxseed in an airtight container for several months. Also, avoid purchasing flaxseed oil as that eliminates the fiber and most of the lignans.
How to Use Flaxseed: I usually sprinkle 1 – 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed over yogurt or cold oatmeal (Breakfast of Champions recipe) or add it to smoothies. I have friends who mix a little ground flaxseed into mustard or mayonnaise for a healthy sandwich spread. It has a nice nutty flavor.