The wonderful world of flax seed – by the numbers

A powerhouse food packed with health benefits. If you’ve not added flax seed to your diet, you will and should soon.

First cultivated nearly 3,000 years ago, flax seed has been around a while.

Back in the eighth century, King Charlemagne was so convinced of the goodness of flax seed he enforced laws that required the people of his land to eat it. Now, 1,300 years later, experts realize Charlemagne’s suspicions were spot on.

Evidence has shown flax seed may help lower your risk of cancer, lung disease, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Recognition of these health benefits has led to an increase in the amount of flax seed being added to foods such as oatmeal, crackers, and bread. You may want to add it to your food as well.

What makes flax seed so great? Its reputation comes from three basic ingredients. First of all, flax seed is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids.

These good fats are great for the health of your heart. One tablespoon of flax seed contains roughly 1.8 grams of plant-based omega-3s. When you buy eggs advertised as ‘high in omega-3s’ this is made possible because the chickens were fed flax seed.

Second, flax seed is high in lignans. These chemical compounds found in plants are powerful antioxidants and may play a powerful role in the fight against certain cancers, lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation. Flax seed is by far the best source for lignans.

Flax seed is also high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. Since it fills you up, fiber is helpful in weight control. It also works to reduce cholesterol and treat heart disease.

Flax seed may also help protect you against colon cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. The plant omega-3s may inhibit tumors from developing and growing. Lignans may help protect you against cancers that are sensitive to hormones. And the high level of antioxidants may fight against heart disease and cancer.

The omega-3s and amino acids found in flax seed keep the cardiovascular system working smoothly by lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, keeping your arteries clear of plaque and reducing cholesterol.

Research also suggests the lignans in flax seed may be helpful in regulating blood sugar levels and therefore protecting you from diabetes. The specific kind of omega-3s as well as the lignans found in flax seed may work to reduce inflammation that’s associated with diseases such as asthma and Parkinson’s.

Women going through menopause may find flax seed helpful in reducing hot flashes as well. In one study, women who ate two tablespoons of flax seed a day noticed a drastic decrease in the intensity of their hot flashes and cut their frequency in half.

Here are tips for helping you include flax in your diet.

First, flax seed isn’t a magic seed. It won’t cure all your ills, but adding it to an already healthy diet is a great way to improve your health. Secondly, until more research is done on the effects of flax seed, pregnant and nursing mothers should limit their consumption.

Aim to eat one to two tablespoons of flax seed each day. It’s best to eat flax seed that’s ground. Whole seeds may not be completely digested and your body won’t glean all their benefits. You can buy the seeds ground or ground them yourself in a coffee grinder.

Milled flax seed, ground flax seed and flax meal are different terms for the same thing, so don’t be confused. You can buy either golden or brown, as there’s not much difference between the two. Find ground flax seed in the grocery store aisle that sells flour or in the whole-grain cereal section.

When purchasing products that contain flax seed, check the ingredient label to make sure it contains ground flax seed instead of the whole seed.

Also, it’s not hard to add flax seed to your diet. Just add it to foods you normally eat, such as oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt. Add a few tablespoons of flax seed to any meal that has a sauce or mixture like soup, stew, meatloaf, or casserole. Or replace some of the flour in foods you bake. No one will notice it’s in there, but they’ll all benefit.

Store ground flax seed in the freezer. Whole flax seed can be stored in your cabinet for up to a year.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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