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Flaxseeds
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation


Why Eat It

Endowed with an interesting nutritional profile, flaxseeds provide an essential fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is converted by the body into the type of omega-3 fatty acids that are found primarily in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. Health benefits attributed to omega-3 fatty acids include anti-inflammatory properties and beneficial effects on high blood pressure. Omega-3s make platelets in the blood less likely to stick together and they reduce blood clotting, thereby lessening the chance of a heart attack. Unfortunately, the body’s conversion of ALA to omega-3s is a far less efficient process than getting the omega-3s directly from fish; still, every little bit helps.

In addition, flaxseed is a good source of potassium as well as phytoestrogens called lignans that are studied for the potential to prevent hormone-related types of cancer. To date, flaxseed is the richest known source of plant lignans and contains about 500 times more plant lignans than wheat bran, rye, buckwheat, millet, soybeans and oats.

Scientists speculate that the ALA and lignans in flaxseed may work as a team in helping to prevent disease. Some manufacturers include flaxseed in their products, including nutritionally enhanced eggs from hens fed flaxseed, as well as flax-enhanced breads, cereals and muffins.

And because a good amount of fiber is found in these little seeds, your digestive system will benefit from their insoluble fiber, which helps to prevent constipation, and your cholesterol levels may be kept in check by their heart-healthy soluble fiber. Though rare, some people may experience an allergic reaction to flaxseed and go into anaphylactic shock. Unless the seeds are well chewed or ground, they simply pass through the body, and you don’t reap their health benefits. To retain the nutritional merits of flaxseed, grind them finely (a coffee grinder will do the trick). Furthermore, while the oil pressed from flaxseeds contains ALA, the fiber and lignans in the whole seeds are lost during processing. However, while flaxseed oil may be heart-healthy if it is substituted for saturated fats in the diet, heating it will make it taste unpleasant.

Varieties

See <A class=reference href=">Oil, Flaxseed for more information on flaxseed oil.

Availability

Flaxseeds are available in health-food stores and some herbal supplement stores.

Shopping

If you buy the whole seeds in bulk from a health-food store, sniff them to make sure they're fresh--rancid flax smells like oil-based paint.

Storage

Store pre-ground flax meal in the freezer. If you buy the whole seeds in bulk from a health-food store, transfer them to an airtight container and store in the freezer or refrigerator. The whole seeds should keep well up to 1 year. Grind only as much as you need at one time; if you have leftover ground flaxseeds, freeze in a sealed container for up to 6 months. Sniff the seeds and meal before using them to be sure they’re fresh.

Preparation

Your body can't derive the full benefit of flaxseeds if you consume them whole, so ground (milled) flaxseed is the way to go. You can buy prepared flaxseed flour or meal, but because of its high fat content, the ground seeds can go rancid quickly. You're better off grinding your own, using a coffee grinder or mini food processor. Use the flax meal in baked goods, but don't replace more than about one-fifth of the flour in any given recipe with flax meal or flour, or the texture and flavor will suffer. You can also stir coarsely ground flaxseed into cooked cereals, or sprinkle it into yogurt, for a pleasantly nutty, crunchy touch.


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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