Q. My store carries both brown and golden flax. Is one better than the other?
A. Golden and brown flax both contain the same nutritional benefits in terms of omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, protein and dietary fiber. It’s a matter of choice but rest assured that you can substitute golden for brown and vice versa without sacrificing any of the natural goodness in flaxseed.
Q. What is in flax that’s so good for me?
A. Good fats, great-tasting fiber, lots of lignans and powerful protein—and that’s just for starters! Flaxseed is one of the highest plant sources of omega-3 fat, with over 50% of the fat portion in flaxseed comprised of an omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). And every ounce (about 3 Tbsp.) of ground flaxseed delivers more than 30% of your recommended daily fiber intake. What’s more flaxseed is about 20% protein with many “essential” amino acids that the body can’t make on its own, making it particularly popular if you’re trying to meet protein requirements on a vegetarian diet. And then there’s the lignans—flaxseed is literally loaded with these natural cancer-preventative phytonutrients. Finally, you’ll find flaxseed full of vital vitamins and minerals—lots of folate, vitamin E, vitamin B-6, copper, zinc, magnesium and (dry ounce for ounce) more potassium than seven bananas.
Q. What is so beneficial about Omega-3 fat?
A. Many of us are just getting used to the concept of good fats. Who would have guessed that as we concentrated on reducing our total fat intake we would wind up depriving our bodies of essential fatty acids—especially omega-3 fats. Unlike corn and soybean oils which are primarily omega-6 fats, flaxseed and ground flax have more than three times the amount of omega-3 as omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are the fatty acids that protect the heart. In fact, large scale studies now confirm that plant-derived omega 3’s offer some unique heart-healthy benefits and may be even more effective than fatty fish and fish oils in lowering the risk of some coronary diseases. And now, they’ve discovered that flax may play an important anti-inflammation role in reducing disease. The alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that makes up most of the omega- 3 fatty acids in flax has been found to lower blood levels of a compound called C-reactive protein or CRP. Reducing the artery inflammation associated with high levels of CRP now may be considered as important as lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol in preventing heart attacks and strokes.
Q. Why do health professionals often recommend flax?
A. Because they look to results such as the Mediterranean diet. Rich in the omega-3 ALA found in flaxseed, this diet has been associated with up to a 70% reduction in coronary heart disease compared with typical western diets low in ALA. That’s why the American Heart Association Dietary Guidelines recommend including high ALA sources, such as flaxseed, in the healthy diets for the general population.
Q. What are lignans?
A. Lignans are phytonutrients found in the fiber portion of flax seed. Flax contains 75 - 800 times more lignans than other plant sources. Lignans are sometimes called phytoestrogens, because they weakly mimic the action of estrogenic hormones in the body. Research continues to show their potential for minimizing many of the negative effects of estrogenic hormones in humans, reducing several menopausal symptoms and reducing the risk of hormone-dependant cancers of the colon, breast and prostrate. Lignans also possess powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties associated with a lower risk of artery-clogging plaques and diabetes.
Q. I’ve heard I need to grind whole flax. Why is that?
A. While whole and ground flax have the same nutritional content, your body gets far more benefit from ground flax. That’s because the goodness in flax is wrapped up in a hard, shiny seed coat that’s hard to crack, even with careful chewing. Grinding or roasting flax breaks this seed coat making all the nutrients easy to digest. Flax seeds are easy to grind at home using a coffee grinder, food processor or blender. You can also buy ground or “milled” flaxseed in most stores where whole flax is sold. Check out the cooking tips and substitutions section for simple instructions on roasting flaxseed.
Q. How much flax do I need a day?
A. Evidence from heart disease prevention studies suggests that daily intakes of between 1.5 grams and 3.0 grams of ALA omega-3 fatty acid are very beneficial. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed provides about 1.6 grams of ALA while the same amount of whole flaxseed contains about 2.35 grams of ALA before grinding. Thus, 2 to 3 tablespoons of whole or ground flaxseed is generally recommended as a daily intake for health benefits. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 36 calories. Check out the Nutritional Facts section for the standard USDA labeling information on whole flax, ground flax and flaxseed oil.
Q. Is there a difference between flax seed and flax seed oil?
A. Yes. Flaxseed oil is the result of cold-pressing flaxseeds. Because it is the fat portion of the seed, it contains high levels of Omega 3 ALA—almost 8 grams per tablespoon. But flaxseed oil doesn’t have the fiber, lignans and protein found in the rest of the seed. Choose whole or milled (ground) flax if you want all the health benefits and nutrition that flaxseed has to offer.
Q. Is it true that flax can relieve constipation and even help with weight control?
A. Absolutely. A natural laxative, flaxseed has a perfect balance of soluble and insoluble fiber delivering over 30% of the recommended daily fiber intake in just an ounce. Because of its pleasant, nutty flavor, flaxseed delivers its fiber with a satisfying fullness that can result in better appetite control and weight loss.
Q. Is flax safe for kids and toddlers?
A. Flax is a natural plant source of vital nutrition and is considered safe for healthy people of all age groups. Because flaxseed is a natural laxative, you’d be wise to introduce flaxseed to the diet gradually, however. If you have any health issues, consult a health care professional before adding flaxseed to your diet.
Q. What’s an easy way to add flaxseed to my diet?
A. Buy or bake products that have whole or ground flaxseed in their recipes; top your cereal, yogurt or salad with whole, ground or roasted flaxseed and use omega-3 eggs from hens fed flaxseed rations. For more great ideas, check out our recipe section.
Q. How long does flaxseed keep?
A. That depends. If you buy whole flaxseed, don’t be afraid to keep a jar of it handy on your kitchen counter. Whole flaxseed is naturally wrapped in a perfect package—a hard hull that preserves it’s goodness for up to a year or longer. Ground flaxseed is best stored refrigerated in an opaque container and will keep at least 90 days. Because ground flaxseed flows readily even when frozen, many users choose to store ground flaxseed in the freezer for even longer shelf life. Others simply grind flaxseed as they use it to ensure utmost freshness. Roasted flaxseed should also be refrigerated or frozen. Flaxseed oil should be refrigerated and usually has an expiration date about four months after pressing.