Flax - A Healthy Food
Flax comes from the blue-flowered plant crop grown mainly in the cool, northern climate of the western Canadian prairies. Canadian brown flax seed is the favourite choice of consumers. The omega-3 fatty acid and fibre in flax are nutrients that help keep us healthy and well.
A Better Diet with Flax
Canadian flax is a high quality food. Flax contains the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); fibre; and lignans (see table, below). Health experts prescribe these nutrients and other compounds for better health.
Omega-3 fatty acid. About 42% of flax seed is oil, and more than 70% of that oil is polyunsaturated fat, a healthy fat. Flax also contains 57% of the important omega-3 fatty acid, ALA.
Extra fibre. Flax seed contains soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre can lower blood cholesterol levels, while insoluble fibre moves the stool through the colon more quickly, helping bowel movements.
Lignans. Flax seed is also one of the richest plant sources of lignans, providing up to 800 times more lignans than most other foods in a vegetarian diet. Lignans are phytoestrogens – compounds that have been shown in laboratory studies of animals to help protect against certain kinds of cancer, particularly cancers of the breast and colon, by blocking tumour formation.
Proximate composition of flax based on common measures
Total dietary fibre
Source: Morris D. Flax: A health and nutrition primer. Winnipeg: Flax Council of Canada; 2003. p 11.)
Health Benefits of Flax
The omega-3 fatty acids have a balancing role in the diet. They correct imbalances in modern diets that lead to health problems. Nutritionists caution that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids eaten in North America no longer meets our bodies’ needs. You can balance your consumption of fatty acids by adding flax to your diet. Current research shows eating flax seed provides health benefits.
A lower risk for heart disease. Nutritionists advise paying attention to the kinds of fats eaten. They suggest you eat less saturated fat and trans fats, and more polyunsaturated fat – which flax provides. Studies show a diet high in ALA reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and by preventing the buildup of harmful deposits in arteries. In other studies, where scientists studied large groups of people to find disease trends, increasing the ALA content of the diet corresponded to a decrease in risk of stroke and heart disease.
Prevention of some forms of cancer. The link between diet and cancer is well-known. Flax contains dietary fibre and omega-3 fat in the form of ALA, which can reduce the risk of cancer. Furthermore, studies showed the ALA in flax slowed inflammation which led to cell growth in cancer. Another study on women newly diagnosed with breast cancer showed a slowing of tumour growth with the addition of flax to their diet.
Treatment of immune disorders. The lignans and ALA in flax help prevent inflammation that affects the body’s immune system. Flax in the diet may be useful in the treatment of such immune disorders as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and lupus.
Diabetes. Studies show flax lowers blood glucose in healthy, young adults. The effect of flax in the diets of people with Type 2 diabetes is currently being investigated.
Relief from constipation. Studies in older adults show eating flax helps increase the frequency of bowel movements.
Adding Flax to Your Diet
Flax adds a pleasant, nutty taste to foods. You can buy flax by the scoop, vacuum pack, bottle or capsule, or find it in some favourite foods. Here are some ways to use flax.
Whole flax seeds add colour and crunch to foods. You can sprinkle
flax seeds on top of home baking or mix them into dough. However,
to obtain benefit from flax, you should first grind flax seeds because
whole seeds will pass through your system undigested.
Whirr. Milled flax
Grinding whole seeds breaks their tough outer skin, creating a light-
coloured powder. Milled flax is sold in a vacuum package, or you
can prepare it yourself in a coffee grinder. You can sprinkle milled
flax on cereal, or add it to doughs, batters, casseroles and other
Pour. Flax oil.
Flax oil is sold in bottles. The oil is extracted from whole flax seeds,
using a cold-press process especially developed for plant oils. Pour
flax oil on fresh salads. Flax oil provides ALA, but no fibre or lignans.
Flax oil is sealed in gel capsules and sold as a dietary supplement. You
should follow manufacturers’ dosages.
Omega-3 enriched eggs.
Omega-3 enriched eggs contain extra omega-3 fatty acids from flax
fed to hens. You can use omega-3 eggs wherever you would use
regular eggs – there’s no taste difference, only nutrition enrichment.
If eaten on a regular basis, omega-3-enriched eggs make a substantial
contribution to your need for omega-3 fatty acids. The caloric value
and protein content of omega-3 enriched eggs are similar to that of
Try. Omega-3 enriched foods.
Omega-3 enriched foods, such as yogourt and milk, may contain flax
oil, while flax baked goods, such as breads, can include milled or whole
How Much Flax to Eat
Like any fibrous food, flax can upset your digestion if you add too much, too quickly. In a balanced
diet, eating 5 g (1 teaspoon) of flax oil or 8 g (1 tablespoon) of milled flax daily provides enough
ALA to meet dietary needs.
Eating 5 g of flax oil or 8 g of milled flax daily provides enough
ALA to meet dietary needs.
Whole flax seed. You can store whole flax seed, which is clean, dry and
of good quality, at room temperature for up to a year.
Milled flax seed. To keep flax fresh, you should grind it as you need
it. You can keep milled flax refrigerated in an airtight, opaque container
for up to 30 days.
Note: Because there are wide variations in kitchen temperatures and situations, the above guidelines limit storage times; however, people often keep milled flax for much longer periods. Let your nose be your guide: If the flax develops an off-odour, discard it.
Flax Substitutions for Special Diets
Flax can replace fat or eggs in a recipe.
Fat Substitution Instructions: Use a 3:1 ratio when substituting flax for oil in a recipe. For
example, 3 tablespoons of milled flax can replace 1 tablespoon
of butter, margarine, shortening or vegetable oil.
3 tablespoons milled flax = 1 tablespoon butter, margarine, shortening or vegetable oil
Egg Substitution Instructions: For every egg being replaced, mix 1 tablespoon milled flax with
3 tablespoons water in a small bowl and let sit for one or two
minutes. The mixture will become gel-like. Add to your recipe
as you would an egg.
1 tablespoon milled flax + 3 tablespoons water = 1 egg