Flaxseeds: from fable to phenomenal
Flaxseed is one of mankind’s oldest crops. Its story encompasses a journey from being an ancient medicine to becoming a 21st Century health food. Hippocrates advocated flax for the relief of abdominal pains, while the Emperor Charlemagne considered flax so important for the health of his subjects that he passed laws and regulations requiring its consumption. Yet modern research has more than just confirmed the remarkable properties our forebears recognised in this tiny seed. A good example comes from recent studies suggesting flaxseed may have a protective effect against breast, prostate and colon cancer, as it appears the plant-based omega 3 fatty acid found in flaxseed (ALA) could inhibit tumour incidence and growth. But its benefits don’t stop here.
Another example of “Tiny but Mighty”
Flaxseeds are small, in fact so small that traditionally the sowing of flax had to be done very early in the morning on a windless day. In the 19th Century the sowing was considered so tricky and critical it was carried out by hired professionals, using certain rhythms and patterns as they scattered the seed so that it was evenly dispersed.
Yet the trouble is more than worth it as the power packed nutritional and medicinal benefits of these little seeds are remarkable;
- Flaxseed is the richest dietary source of lignans (chemical compounds found in plants)
- The lignans in flaxseed may provide some protection against cancers by blocking enzymes that are involved in hormone metabolism and interfering with the spread and growth of tumour cells
- Flaxseed also has antioxidant properties, which may contribute to protect against cancer and heart disease
- Several studies have suggested that diets rich in flaxseed omega-3s could help prevent hardening of the arteries
- Consuming flaxseed daily may also aid in cholesterol levels
- A study of menopausal women showed a decrease in LDL (bad cholesterol) after the women consumed 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed each day for a year.
Many experts believe it is better to consume flaxseed rather than flax oil, so you benefit from all the nutritional and medicinal components. However, at times the oil can be a good alternative, such as in salad dressings.
Buy flaxseed ground – or grind it yourself – this is important because if flaxseed is consumed whole it is more likely to pass through the intestinal tract undigested, which means the body does not receive all the nutrients. And feel free to buy either brown or golden flaxseed, there is very little difference nutritionally between the two.
How to work flaxseed into your daily eating routine
At breakfast: add a teaspoon of flaxseeds to oats, muesli, porridge or perhaps a smoothie or yogurt
At lunch: add to a soup
At dinner: stir flaxseeds into casseroles, chilli, stews, meatballs or meatloaf. For a dish serving 4 people add 2-4 tablespoons, or make it 4-8 tablespoons for a dish serving 6-8 people.
Cautionary advice: Until more is known, pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should not supplement their diets with ground flaxseed. Always consult your doctor first.
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