11 Simple Steps for a Healthier and Happier ’11: Step 8

1/8/11: FLAXSEEDS

Put a little flax into your life

In the 8th century, King Charlemagne was so convinced of the health benefits of flaxseeds that he passed laws requiring his subjects to eat them.  More recently, these little healthful gems have come back into nutritional vogue. What we know now is that flaxseeds contain an impressive amount of:

  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids, believed to support brain function, heart health and decrease inflammation;
  • Lignans, a variety of phyotochemicals recognized for their antioxidant properties; and
  • Fiber, both the soluble and insoluble varieties, which supports digestive health, improves elimination, helps balance blood sugar and assists in weight loss.

But in order to take advantage of all this goodness, there are a few additional things to know.  We are not able to digest the seeds whole.  They pass right through our systems intact, and therefore without sharing their nutritional goodness with us.  To capture all they have to offer, you need to grind them. I use a designated coffee grinder for this.  Since the oils in flaxseeds are very fragile and exposure to heat and/or air cause them to become rancid quickly, I keep my seed grinder and a jar of whole flaxseeds in the refrigerator. I grind a small portion every other day, or as needed. Alternatively, you can buy already ground flaxseed meal.

You may have noticed that packaged food makers are speedily adding flaxseeds in their products. In most cases, they are included whole, in which case, there is no additional health reason to buy them.

Flaxseed oil is also gaining in popularity.  It is a good plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids and lignans, but does not include the fiber of the ground seeds.  Because it is highly perishable, it should be purchased only in opaque bottles and be kept refrigerated. Flaxseed oil should not be used in cooking, but can be added to foods after they have been heated.

I have heard flaxseeds called one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet. Knowing that, make 2011 the year you start sprinkling ground flaxseeds on hot or cold cereal, on yogurt, over soups, stews, grains, cooked vegetables and salads, mixed into mayonnaise or mustard for on sandwiches, added into smoothies, blended into pancake batter, muffins, breads, and cookie dough.  Be creative, just put a little flax into your life, and add a lot to your health.


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2 thoughts on “11 Simple Steps for a Healthier and Happier ’11: Step 8

  1. Because of my crazy lifestyle, I have begun purchasing pre-ground flaxseed meal.
    Alternately, I have been ingesting Flaxseed Oil- 1000 mg in pill form for about 3 years. What are your thoughts on the pills?

    • Taking flaxseed oil is a great way to get plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acids (in the form alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, which the body then converts to EPA and DHA forms which have been connected to numerous health benefits ). What you miss out on is the fiber in the seeds. In both cases, make sure you are storing it in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity since the oils are very fragile in both light and heat.

      Eggs also contain EPA and DHA. In an effort to boost their eggs’ omega-3 content, I have started adding ground flax seeds to what I feed my chickens.

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