“Honey, gather the youngins and come here quick-like. Fitness Friday Girl is talking about FLAX!”
Yes, it’s true. It’s the Fitness Friday post you all have been waiting for.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t as exciting as whether or not Jennifer Aniston is actually on the baby food diet. Few things are, really. But at the risk of having all the glamour and intrigue of the federal tax code, I’m gonna talk about flax.
I’m sort of ignorant about supplements of any kind. It’s difficult enough for most of us to figure out what we should eat in the way of FOOD, much less figure out if we need to add things TO the food. I read everything I can get my hands on with regard to health and fitness. But I have to admit, even I gloss over the material on supplements. I get overwhelmed with the jargon very easily. How many milligrams of this do I take? And what do I mix it with? And how many times a day? And what is it supposed to do? And why can’t I just eat FOOD?
And half the time, I can’t tell if it’s accurate information or just a slick ad campaign concocted by some marketing dude in a cubicle, who eats bacon cheeseburgers and curly fries for lunch. Know what I mean?
I personally take a multi-vitamin each day, along with a calcium/vitamin D tablet. I started taking a multi-vitamin in the childbearing years and just never stopped. I started the calcium/D when I turned 40, at the insistence of my gynecologist. I’m not even sure if these babies do what they are supposed to do in my body, or if they simply pass through my system, only to be filtered from the city water supply at a later date.
I figure, if I’m ignorant about these things, maybe one or two of you might be also. So, I decided I’m going to do a little research to figure out if I should be adding some more things to my diet. Today I’m going to look at one of the trendier (more trendy?) supplements and break down in plain English. We’ll look at the good, the bad and the ugly of flax. We can decide together if we want to work it into our diets, K? K!
What is Flax?
It’s a plant that looks like this:
With beautiful flowers that look like this:
Producing seeds that look like this:
History of Flax seed
Flax seed was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC, according to the Flax Council of Canada. The most interesting fact there being, that Canada has a Flax Council.
By the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flax seed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it.
These days, flax seed is found in all kinds of foods, from crackers to frozen waffles to oatmeal. In the first 11 months of 2006, 75 new products were launched that listed flax or flax seed as an ingredient. Not only has consumer demand for flax seed gone up, agricultural use has also increased — to feed all those chickens laying eggs that are higher in omega-3 fatty acids. I bet you never knew how those eggs got all hyped up on omega 3’s!
What’s the Big Deal about Flax seed?
Although flax seed contains all sorts of healthy components, it owes its healthy reputation primarily to three ingredients:
• Omega-3 essential fatty acids, “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flax seed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
• Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flax seed contains 75- 800 times more lignans than other plant foods
• Fiber. Flax seed contains both the soluble and insoluble types.
Recent studies have suggested that flax seed may have a protective effect against cancer, particularly breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.
Research suggests that plant omega-3s help the cardiovascular system via several different mechanisms, including anti-inflammatory action and normalizing the heartbeat.
Several studies have suggested that diets rich in flax seed omega-3s help prevent hardening of the arteries and keep plaque from being deposited in the arteries, partly by keeping white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessels’ inner linings.
A French-Canadian (there’s those flax-loving Canadians again!) study in menopausal women reported a decrease in these small LDL particles after the women ate 4 tablespoons of ground flax seed daily for a year.
Preliminary research also suggests that daily intake of the lignans in flax may modestly improve blood sugar (as measured by hemoglobin A1c blood tests in adults with type 2 diabetes).
Two components in flax seed, ALA and lignans, may reduce the inflammation that accompanies certain illnesses (such as Parkinson’s disease and asthma) by helping to block the release of certain pro-inflammatory agents.
One preliminary study on menopausal women, published in 2007, reported that 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed (taken twice each day) cut the women’s hot flashes in half. And, the intensity of their hot flashes dropped by 57%. The women noticed a difference after talking the daily flaxseed for just one week, and achieved the maximum benefit within two weeks.
Can Flax seed Be Harmful?
One expert says “there is no evidence showing excess amounts of flax seed can be harmful.” And another says, “Yes, too much flax seed could be potentially harmful. In fact, excess consumption of most any food could be harmful.”
This means, if all you eat is flax seed and you fail to eat other healthy foods, then, yes, it is harmful. If you are allergic to flax seed, then yes, it is harmful. Yet, for the general population, the amount of flax seed that is “too much” flax seed is way more than most people consume. It is safe to consume the recommended 2 to 4 tablespoons daily.
Don’t eat unripe flax seed pods. They are toxic.
Do not apply flax seed or flax seed oil to wounds or open skin. I know you ALL do this, so stop it now.
Due to its high fiber content, flax seed has a laxative effect. Therefore, it can cause diarrhea, increased bowel movements and bloating. So people with bowel issues like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s probably shouldn’t take it.
On the flip side, if you don’t drink enough water, it could cause constipation and intestinal blockage. (FFG stopping right now for a water break. Seriously, she is.)
Studies are conflicting regarding men, flax and prostate cancer. One study suggests it helps prevent prostate cancer. One said it made it worse. The one that said it made it worse involved flax seed OIL, not ground flax seed.
Until more is known, experts suggest pregnant women and possibly breastfeeding mothers should not supplement their diets with ground flax seed. One study showed flax seed exposure during these stages may be protective against breast cancer in the offspring, but another study showed the opposite effect.
Tips for Using Flax seed
• Many experts believe it’s better to consume flax seed than flax oil (which contains just part of the seed) so you get all the components. But stay tuned as researchers continue to investigate. I know you all can’t wait to hear the verdict on this one.
• Buy it ground or grind it yourself. Flax seed, when eaten whole, is more likely to pass through the intestinal tract undigested, which means your body doesn’t get all the healthful components. If you want to grind flax seed yourself, those little electric coffee grinders seem to work best.
• Milled = ground = flax meal. Don’t be confused by the different product names for ground flax seed. Milled or ground flax seed is the same thing as flax meal.
• Buy either brown or golden flax seed. Golden flax seed is easier on the eyes, but brown flax seed is easier to find in most supermarkets. There is very little difference nutritionally between the two, so the choice is up to you.
• Find it in stores or on the Internet. Many supermarket chains now carry ground flax seed (or flaxmeal). It’s usually in the flour or “grain” aisle or the whole-grain cereal section, often sold in 1-pound bags. You can also find it in health food stores, or order it through various web sites.
• Check the product label. When buying products containing flax seed, check the label to make sure ground flax seed, not whole flax seed, was added. Flax seed is a featured ingredient in cereals, pasta, whole grain breads and crackers, energy bars, meatless meal products, and snack foods.
• Add flax seed to a food you habitually eat. Every time you have a certain food, like oatmeal, smoothies, soup, or yogurt, stir in a couple tablespoons of ground flax seed. Soon it will be a habit and you won’t have to think about it, you’ll just do it.
• Hide flax seed in dark, moist dishes. The dishes that hide flax seed the best usually have a darkly colored sauces or meat mixtures. No one tends to notice flax seed when it’s stirred into enchilada casserole, chicken Parmesan, chili, beef stew, meatloaf or meatballs. For a 4-serving casserole, you can usually get away with adding 2-4 tablespoons of ground flax seed. For a dish serving 6-8, use 4-8 tablespoons.
• Use it in baking. Substitute ground flax seed for part of the flour in recipes for quick breads, muffins, rolls, bread, bagels, pancakes, and waffles. Try replacing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the flour with ground flax seed if the recipe calls for 2 or more cups of flour.
• Keep it in the freezer. The best place to store ground flax seed is the freezer. Freeze pre-ground flax seed in the bag you bought it in, or in a plastic sealable bag if you ground it yourself. The freezer will keep the ground flax from oxidizing and losing its nutritional potency.
• Whole flax seed keeps longer. The outside shell in whole flax seed appears to keep the fatty acids inside well protected. It’s a good idea to keep your whole flax seed in a dark, cool place until you grind it. But as long as it is dry and of good quality, whole flax seed can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.
Fitness Friday Girl Tries Organic Finely Ground Flax Seed
In a smoothie: Good! Adds a bit of a nutty flavor and minimal texture. Made the smoothie more interesting and complicated with an added layer of flavor.
On granola with skim milk: I didn’t like this as much. The taste is okay, but all the flax seed tends to settle at the bottom of the bowl. When the granola is gone, all that’s left is soggy ground flax seed. I ate it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
In oatmeal: This was really good. I added some agave nectar (natural sweetener), blueberries and almond butter also. It was delicious.
Side effects: Since adding flax seed, I had one day with mild diarrhea, no cramping or stomach upset. I’m not even sure it had anything to do with the flax seed, because I eat a lot of fruit and veggies, too. And that is probably a little more than you wanted to know about Fitness Friday Girl, wasn’t it.
Conclusion: I think I’m going to continue adding flax seed to my diet. It has many nutritional benefits, minimal risk and it tastes good.
What do YOU think? Will you try it? Do you already use it?
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