Flaxseed is indeed a powerful little package!
Did you know that flaxseed has been cultivated for 1000’s of years – at least since 3000 BC? And that King Charlemagne actually passed a law in 8th Century AD requiring that all citizens consume flaxseed – to ensure a healthy population?
Flax has been used to make fine linen and preserve wood. Hippocrates used it as a remedy for gastrointestinal problems. In-depth and ongoing studies now show flaxseed is an excellent source of omega-3s, lignans and fiber. Why is this important?
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, a “good” fat which has been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Flax is very high in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which our bodies need but cannot produce – so we have to get it from other sources, like flax. In fact, our bodies can then convert ALA into other important Omega-3s (like EPA and DHA – which you can also get from cold water oily fish.) All of these Omega-3s are helpful in decreasing inflammation in the body, which helps lower the risks of many chronic conditions including coronary and immune system disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, asthma, obesity and metabolic syndrome to name a few.
In addition, boosting Omega-3 consumption helps you maintain a healthy ratio with Omega-6s. The SAD (Standard American Diet) is rich in Omega-6 (cooking oils, eggs, grain fed meats, farmed raised fish and processed foods!) The SAD is generally deficient in Omega-3s (cold water fish, flax, omega3 supplemented eggs and grass fed meat). Consequently the ratio of Omega6s to Omega3s has increased significantly throughout the years. In fact, our cave ancestors probably had a ratio of around 1:1. Now it’s closer to 12 or 13:1 and even as high as 25:1 for some individuals. These out-of-whack ratios contribute to more inflammation, leading to increased risk for various chronic conditions. More 3, less 6 is good!
Lignans are polyphenols, which are antioxidants, which help protect against oxidative damage by scavenging free radicals! Is that important? Yes, apparently. There is much left to be learned about the value and source of so many aspects of nutrition – new components are being discovered frequently – as is the process by which they interact. But lignans, part of a very important group of antioxidants, seem to have a very positive effect in reducing inflammation and plaque build-up, maintaining healthy heart rhythm and protecting against some types of cancer! Flax is one of the best sources of lignans.
Fiber is such an important part of the diet and Americans are generally so deficient – too many processed/refined foods, dairy and meat products and not enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Flaxseeds provide both soluble and insoluble fiber, and we need both. Insoluble fiber (“roughage”) is tough and doesn’t break down. This results in more efficient transit through the digestive system and more regular bowel movement. Soluble fiber is soluble in water – it retains water and forms a gel which actually slows the digestive process. This can help stabilize blood sugar, allow better nutrient absorption and reduce blood cholesterol levels. Eat More Fiber!
Potential Flax Benefits: By helping control and/or reduce inflammation, flax may lower risk of chronic conditions including:
- coronary disease
- type 2 diabetes
- certain types of cancer (breast cancer for one)
- metabolic syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
Flax Egg Recipe: To replace one whole egg for baking or binding (not for scrambling!)
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon golden flax meal
- Whisk meal into water and allow to set for 10-15 minutes until it becomes gelatinous (like an egg!)
Potential Risk Posed by Flax: not recommended for
- pregnant women – flax may act like estrogen which some think may be harmful to pregnancy. Also not recommended for women who are breastfeeding.
- individuals with bleeding disorders – may slow clotting.
- individuals with diabetes or anyone on diabetes medication. Combined use may result in blood sugar levels which are too low.
- individuals with hormone-sensitive cancers or conditions like breast, uterine and ovarian cancer; endometriosis, or uterine fibroids because flaxseed may act like estrogen.
- individuals with high triglycerides.
Flaxseed is cheap, easily available and natural. It’s generally safe except in certain conditions, listed above. Considering its possible benefits and limited side effects and risks, you may want to consider adding it to your daily regimen. It works best when ground (the hard husk on the seeds may prevent the body from absorbing some of the nutrients and when the oil is pressed, many nutrients are left behind.) It can easily be added to foods that you already eat – in baked goods, oatmeal, smoothies, soups and other dishes.
As with any changes in your diet and exercise, check with your physician before making changes.