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The Superfood You May Not Have Heard Of

Apr 8, 2011
You have probably heard that flax is good for you, but do you know what it is and why it's good for you?  Flax, which has been around for thousands of years, is sometimes called one of the most powerful plants in the world.  It can help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.  Flax seeds are originally from the eastern Mediterranean to India region.  Their color ranges from a goldish-yellow color to a reddish brown.  They are a little bit bigger than sesame seeds, and have a hard, smooth shell, and a nutty, earthy flavor.  Flaxseed oil has a sweet, nutty flavor.

Nutritional Benefits
They contain linseed oil, or flaxseed oil, which is edible, and is used as a nutritional supplement.  Over 50% of the fat in flax seeds is Omega-3 Fatty Acids, which makes it the richest plant source of Omega 3's, including Alpha-Linolenic Acid(ALA). Omega-3 Fatty Acids helps fight inflammation in our bodies, which contributes to heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and some types of cancer.  It also improves the quality of skin, hair and nails.  Since flax contains such a high amount of ALA, which is similar to the omega 3 found in fish, flax oil supplements are a great alternative for those who do not want to take fish oil supplements. 

Flax seed is high in most of the B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese.  It also contains many phytochemicals and antioxidants, which prevent or slow oxidative damage to our bodies.  It contains lignans, and is probably the best source, which may promote fertility, reduce peri-menopausal symptoms, and may help prevent breast cancer. Flax seeds also contain a high amount of dietary fiber, which helps stabilize blood sugar, helps with digestion, and lowers cholesterol.

Where You Can Find It
Flax can be found in health food stores, and is now being sold at most grocery stores.  You can either buy whole seeds , ground flax or flaxseed oil.  Whole flax will stay fresh for up to one year if they are stored in a cool, dark and dry place such as the refrigerator or freezer.  Ground flax will go rancid much quicker, so you may want to buy whole flax seeds and grind them yourself.  Your body is unable to digest the flax seeds, which means that they will come out exactly the way they went in.  Because of this, it is best to either buy ground flax seed or to grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or blender.  Flaxseed oil must be refrigerated.  If the oil or seeds seem rancid or are questionable, they should be thrown out.

How You Can Use It
There are many ways to eat flax.  It can really be added to a lot of foods including cereal, yogurt, salad, baked goods smoothies, etc.  Up to two tablespoons of seeds are recommended per day.  Since it has such high fiber content, it may initially cause some gas and bloating, so it is best to start with a smaller amount and gradually increase it, otherwise it may have a laxative effect.  Also, eating too much of it may cause constipation. You can choose to eat the oil instead of the seeds, but the oil  does  not contain all of the nutrients that the seeds do.  The oil can be used in some of the same ways as the seeds, and used instead of other types of oils in dressings.  Flax oil is not for cooking though as it will deplete the oil's nutrient content.

So, as you can see, these little, tiny seeds pack in a ton of nutrients and provide many health benefits.  And, you can attain the benefits just by consuming two tablespoons per day!  

Kelly Forness is a Dietetic Technician, Registered (DTR) and a member or the American Dietetic Association. She recently obtained her Certificate of Training in Childhood and Adolescent Weight Management. She has experience working in long term care facilities and is currently working at a daycare. Kelly has always been interested in nutrition and fitness her whole life. Kelly is a vegetarian, and tries to eat mostly whole foods. In her free time, she likes spending time with her friends and family, working out, and playing with her 2 cats Chloe and Daisy and dog Charlotte. Kelly can be reached via email at klforness@yahoo.com.

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