The wonder of flax

September 14, 2011

I am having a crash course in the benefits of flaxseed. Whole seed versus ground seed versus oil. Golden seed versus brown. I thought I knew a lot about flaxseed before. As is usually the case, I am finding out that there is so much more to learn. Flaxseed really is a “wonder food.”

Flax is a blue flowering plant grown on the Canadian Prairies and in northwestern United States. The seed it produces is called “flaxseed,” or “linseed.” These small seeds pack a nutritional punch.

As with other seeds, flaxseed offers our bodies soluble fibre. This fibre helps to lower cholesterol. This benefit is available whether you eat the seeds whole or grind them up first. Our bodies do not digest the seed if it is eaten whole, so the whole flaxseed only benefits your digestive tract.

If you want all the benefits of flaxseed, you need to grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or a small blender, such as the Magic Bullet. This releases the other nutrients, such as “Alpha linolenic acid,” and “lignans.”

Alpha linolenic acid, an “omega-3 fatty acid,” is important to our overall health in many ways. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce the thickness of the blood. This means that the heart does not have to work so hard. They also reduce the risk of blood clots. And they help to lower triglyceride levels. High levels of “triglycerides” have been linked to hardening of the arteries. Because flaxseed contains a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids, this “wonder food” helps to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Flaxseed and sesame seeds contain higher levels of lignans than most other foods. Lignans interfere with the cancer-promoting effects of estrogen by binding to the estrogen receptors. Lignans are also antioxidants. As antioxidants, lignans help to reduce the free radicals in our bodies.

There has been some studies that showed the effects of flaxseed on cancer tumours. The Canadian Living website reported on a study by Lilian Thompson, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. This study showed that when breast cancer patients consumed 25 grams of ground flaxseed per day, their tumour growth was reduced.

The American Cancer Society website reported on research that studied men with early prostrate cancer. This research found that a daily intake of ground flaxseed seemed to slow the rate at which the prostrate cancer cells multiplied.

Flaxseed oil has the same omega-3 fatty acids as ground flaxseed. However, flaxseed oil does not provide the fibre or other health ingredients, like the lignans. Ground flaxseed offers the most benefits; however, it does have a limited shelf life. Once you grind the whole seed, you should keep the ground flaxseed in the fridge. And use it within a specific period of time. The whole seed can keep for up to a year on your shelf.

Canada is the world’s leader in flax production and quality. The superior oil quality and content of Canadian flaxseed is attributed to Canada’s climate. Canada is known more for its brown flaxseed than its golden flaxseed. Brown flaxseed is used for a variety of purposes. It is found in breads, cereals, crackers, energy bars, and other foods. It is used to make fabrics, paper, medicines, and soap. It is also used as cattle and poultry feed.

Golden flaxseed is used only for human consumption. Traditionally, the northwestern United States was known for its golden flaxseed. Now, golden flaxseed is grown on the Canadian Prairies as well.

There is another yellow seed that looks like flaxseed but does not provide the same nutritional benefits. This yellow seed is “solin seed,” a crop developed from flax to compete against canola seed.

The nutritional benefits of flaxseed are reduced when flaxseed is used in cooking. It is best raw and ground. You can sprinkle it on your cereal, yogurt, or oatmeal. You can put it into your juice or smoothie. Health by Chocolate, by Victoria Laine, has a recipe that uses flaxseed in drop cookies that are not baked, therefore, maintaining the healthy properties of the flaxseed.

You can order Canadian grown golden flaxseed online or by phone through Canadian Goldenflax Seed. The website is: www.canadiangoldenflaxseed.com. Email info@canadiangoldenflaxseed.com to find out how to obtain your copy of Health by Chocolate.

The American Institute for Cancer Research Health-e-Recipe Email Newsletter, Issue #365, has a recipe for “Chicken Crusted with Almond and Flax.” Access current and past issues at: http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=her_main

For information on the study by Lilian Thompson, go to Canadian Living’s link: http://www.canadianliving.com/health/nutrition/diet_file_flaxseed.php

For information on the research studies done on men with prostrate cancer, reported by the American Cancer Society, go to: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/ProstateCancer/DetailedGuide/prostate-cancer-new-research

You might find the following websites helpful and interesting:

Official grains of Canada: http://www.grainscanada.gc.ca/flax-lin/flm-mfl-eng.htm

Flax Council of Canada: http://www.flaxcouncil.ca/english/index.jsp?p=faq

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About theflaxchick

My life changes in the blink of the eye. So I need to be flexible, adaptable, and open to new adventures at a moment's notice! Throughout all of my hardships, I'm always blessed with what I need, which usually includes angels that walk the earth wearing jeans & t-shirts. I invite you to browse my blogs to follow along as I navigate the twists and turns of life as a human on this earth.
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5 Responses to The wonder of flax

  1. Chris says:

    I have a good book: “The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Breast Cancer” by Sat Dharam Kaur that lauds flax oil and seed.
    Chris

  2. Bonnie says:

    Because my dog was on predsone, which is a life saving drug but has some horrible side effects, one of them being diarrhea, I used flax seed for fiber.

    As well, it was a good oil for her coat and omegas for her health.

    Bonnie

  3. Sylvia de Vasquez says:

    Hi Martha,

    Something else for your research: A friend of mine wound up on a waiting list for exploratory heart surgery after the only change she had made in her diet was that of including flax. Her heart rate accelerated to a dangerous level and they couldn’t find what caused it. She quit taking the flax, did not have a recurrence and decided not to go through with the surgery. That was six years ago.

    I started putting ground flax on my cereal in the mornings after this. In the evenings my heart rate accelerated. I would not have attributed it to the flax had I not known of my friend’s experience. I quit taking the flax and it quit happening.

    Two bits of anecdotal evidence that perhaps there are some people who have a negative reaction to it. I think it bears investigating, but have little interest in doing so myself.

    Generally I would not deny the positive benefits of flax seed, I just think a cautionary note should accompany any new nutritional rave, and the possible negatives be investigated as well.

    Good luck in your new endeavors.

    • Thanks for the insight. Flax is not for everyone. Even though most people have no problems with it at all, there are a few that I’ve talked to that it does bother.

      My advice to anyone that has never tried it: start off with just one tablespoon every day. And if things feel just fine, increase to two tablespoons after using it daily for about a week or two. If something starts to bother you, then cut back or eliminate.

      People who can’t use flax could try hemp seeds (also known as “hemp hearts”) or chia seeds.

      Comments that people have given me include:
      – one lady’s husband was diagnosed with high blood pressure so started using flaxseed. He was able to bring his blood pressure down so didn’t have to resort to pills. Obviously, he was under a doctor’s care and getting regular checkups.
      – one lady had chronic constipation while her daughter had chronic diarrhea. They both started using flax and it helped to balance out both their bodies, even though they had completely different issues. The mother was finally able to get off the laxatives.
      – one lady swears that it works great for her menopausal symptoms.

      I used to be startled awake quite regularly, with my blood just racing and my heart just pounding, like I was running a marathon. I am taking the flaxseed quite regularly now. I have also cut down on my coffee intake. And, I have changed jobs.
      Thankfully, I haven’t experienced that rude awakening in quite some time. I know it wasn’t just the flax but I’m definitely sticking with it.

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