What It Does for You
Flax, a blue-flowering crop grown on the Prairies, produces flaxseed, or linseed, a tiny seed packed with nutritional components that can play an important role in your diet. Here are some of the benefits.
Soluble fibre helps lower cholesterol levels and cut the risk of heart disease.
Alpha linolenic acid, a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid, helps reduce blood thickness, so the heart doesn't have to work as hard to push it through blood vessels. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce the risk of blood clots and help lower triglyceride levels.
Phytoestrogens, or plant chemicals, called lignans convert in the body to compounds that are similar to, but much weaker than, human estrogen.
Flax may reduce the incidence and size of tumours. One small study by Lilian Thompson, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, showed that the rate of tumour growth in breast cancer patients was reduced when they consumed 25 grams of flax per day.
How to Use It
Add flaxseed to cereals; breads; muffin, pancake and cookie mixes; smoothies; juices; applesauce; salads; casseroles; and meat loaf. Red River cereal and some multigrain breads are good sources of flax. Use flaxseed oil in salad dressings or drizzle it over steamed vegetables just before serving.
Who Should Not Consume Flaxseed
Lignans have antiestrogen properties similar to those of drugs such as tamoxifen. Because there is no published research on the interaction of these drugs with flax, Thompson recommends that people who are taking this therapy speak to their physicians before regularly adding flax to their diets. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not eat large quantities of flax until more is known about its effects on fetuses and nursing infants.
Flax in Many Forms
To get the greatest health benefits from flax, grind flaxseeds in a coffee grinder, blender or food processor, or use ground flaxseed. While the whole seeds also contain fibre, grinding releases other healthy ingredients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and lignans. Store leftover ground flaxseed in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer to reduce oxidation, which makes the fat rancid.
Flaxseed oil contains the same omega-3 fatty acids as flaxseeds but not the fibre or other healthy ingredients, such as lignans. Keep flaxseed oil in the fridge, but check the best-before date because it has a limited shelf life. It also breaks down when exposed to heat, so it's not a good choice for cooking.
How Much Is Beneficial
There is no recommended daily amount of flax, but many studies suggest that one to two tablespoons (15 to 25 millilitres) of ground flaxseed each day yields benefits.