There are many trends in the health food industry, some good, some….interesting. When I first opened my business as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in 2010, seeds – both flax and chia – were trending. Every “aware” person walked around with a tall glass water bottle filled with water and little black slimy floating chia seeds and ate fruit and yogurt parfaits sprinkled with flax seeds. It seems when the media isn’t blasting what you should be doing, fun trends like this slowly slink away. This trend is one that should stay.
Interesting tidbit: Flax seeds come from the plant Linum usitatissimum – a plant well known for it’s use in making linen, yes, the fabric.
Flax seeds are unique in their well documented nutrition profile as being high in Omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), lignans (a fiber like compound that also offers anti-oxidant protection), and mucilage gums (another fiber substance that creates a gel like substance that supports the digestive tract). These special nutrients give these little seeds qualifications of a super food – or what you might consider – a big nutritional bang for your buck!
The unique qualities, along with a beautiful diverse nutritional profile, provide support for heart health by lowering blood pressure, protecting the blood vessels, reduces whole body inflammation, lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and improves cholesterol ratio LDL-to-HDL, and reduces oxidative stress.
The health benefits don’t stop there…flax seeds may also reduce risk for breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
Wait, there’s MORE!
The lignan in flax seeds contain phytoestrogens known to support hormone health in women in peri-menopause and menopause.
According to a recent study (2), flax seeds may also serve to prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome as well as support a healthy weight.
The care and qualities of flax seeds and oil:
The oil in flax seeds is volatile, meaning; it is heat and light sensitive. If your seeds are whole, the oil is most stable, but will still benefit from being kept in a dark cold location, like your fridge. If you purchase pre-ground seeds, look for vacuum sealed bags that once opened are then kept in the refrigerator to protect the oil from quickly becoming rancid.
Seeds and oils differ in a few ways. Once the oil is pressed from the seed, the fibers no longer are present. (Remember, these play a significant role in hormone health, gut health, and in supporting cardiovascular health – all in that fiber!) Recognizing that this may reduce the health benefits, some producers will grind seeds into powder and add it back into the oil. The highest quality and most nutritionally beneficial oil will be kept in the refrigerator section, in a colored bottle and be labeled as having high lignan content, representing the reintroduction of the ground seed.
**When I use ground flax seed, I use Green Smoothie Girl’s sprouted ground flax seed that you can purchase HERE.
While the seeds themselves are the whole food with the greatest nutrient impact, in order for us to reap the benefits, the seeds must be broken down. If you prefer whole seeds, be sure to chew them well. Your stomach cannot do this job for you. Another option is to grind them in a coffee grinder just before eating, or purchasing pre-ground. For my smoothies, I’ve chosen the oil for freshness, bioavailability, and as I choose high lignan oil, I know I’m also getting the benefits of the fibers.
There are thoughts to freshness of oils versus seeds – with fresh, high quality, high lignan, oil being bioavailable and if kept well, not rancid, where the seeds may be difficult to tell how fresh they are and how they’ve been kept. Most seed are processed like grains, gathered then stored in grain bins, shipped, then either packaged at a facility for shelf or bulk bin retail.
The oil is NOT heat stable so should not be used to cook with under any circumstance, but the seeds – whole or ground – have been shown to be stable in temperatures up to 300F for lengths up to 3 hours.
- Use flax seeds in baking (up to 300F) of muffins and breads. To keep the oils safe, cook at a lower temperature for longer time.
- Top salads and smoothies with flax seeds.
- Use oil in any salad dressing recipe, it has a light nutty flavor that many enjoy, remembering to keep any leftover in the fridge.
- Use flax seed oil in smoothies – I add no more than a teaspoon to mine.
- Take oil straight (not something I can do, personally.)
All fats, even healthy fats, should be taken in moderation to maintain a balance in the diet. Consider keeping your intake of oils to less than 2 Tablespoons a day.