What’s So Great About…Flax

What’s So Great About…Flax

Did you know that Canada is the largest producer and exporter of flax in the world? Yeah, me neither. But we are, and we also have (quite handily) The Flax Council of Canada where you can find out just about everything and anything you need to know about flax…sort of. Let me explain. 

I begin most mornings with a banana blueberry smoothie which I boost with a shot of flax oil.  My father begins his mornings with a smoothie but he grinds flax seed in a coffee grinder for his. He has been telling me for years that this is the way to go. As flax seeds are not digestible so grinding releases the inside of the seed. Who’s right?  I spoke with Doug Cook, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator working at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and asked him to settle the score. He tells me that “flax seed is better as flax oil gives us too much alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  High intakes of ALA from flax oil has been associated mildly with increased risk of certain cancers.  Flax seeds also have fiber and lignans.” Don’t know what lingans are? That’s ok, I had no idea either. I’ll get to that in a moment. I’m still a little distressed about all that flax oil I’ve been consuming for the past 10 years.

So why the Omega 3 hype?  Omega 3  fatty acids are considered to be essential as our bodies can’t make them on our own (we have to get it from our diet). We need Omega 3s for normal growth and to maintain good health.  Omega 3s have also been credited with fighting and preventing illness. It appears that most extensive and accepted research links Omega 3s and reducing or preventing heart disease. Cook explains: “ Omega-3 fats, especially the marine based ones (fish), help to lower triglycerides (a blood fat that is increases the risk for heart disease), lowers inflammation, helps to maintain normal heart beat, reduces platelet aggregation (stickiness), and increases HDL. High HDL in relation to total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides are associated with lower heart disease risk.”  There have also been other links with Omega 3s found in flax preventing certain cancers  (colon and breast),  assisting in inflammation and arthritis suffering, and even things like depression, concentration and fatigue improved when diets included Omega 3s.

Then there’s the fiber and the lingans found in flax.  The Flax Council of Canada tells us that Lingans are phytoestrogens which have been shown in labratory studies on animals to protect against certain cancers, namely breast and colon.  While the Flax Council of Canada would have you sprinkling the tiny seeds on just about everything, it appears that moderation is a more prudent course of action. Cook tells me that, in fact, “the best way to benefit from Omega 3 and Omega 6 is to eat them in a better ratio. We over-consume Omega 6 because of the use of seed oils like hemp, corn, soy, canola, sunflower, safflower and grape seed. It’s better to eliminate these and increase a bit more Omega-3 from fish and a tiny bit from chia and flax. He goes on to say “that the best oils to cook with are coconut, avocado and macadamia nut. And that the best source for Omega 3s are from fish. The plant form (ALA or alpha-linolenic acid) in flax, chia, nuts and seeds is not converted to the more biologically active forms EPA, and DHA.”

Okay, okay.  I’m a big girl.  I can say this…  Dad, you were right.

Special Note:

If you do grind your flax seed, it should be consumed immediately, as it will go off very quickly. If you are a vegetarian you need to get that DHA, Cook suggests algae – he’s blogged about it on his website – you should check it out! http://wellnessnutrition.ca/?p=1367

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