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Oct032009

The Facts About Flax

By Meguire Caldwell

 

There are studies and research that support one thing, while others contradict it. One day egg yolks are bad for you, the next day there is research that shows the naturally existing mineral in the yolk, sulfur, is actually extremely beneficial to your body. How confusing! According to Alberta Egg Producers, "Eggs Are Back," the first paragraph on their website is just one example of how science and research can shift from one period of time to the next, making it extremely confusing to the average consumer.

"For almost two decades, scientists have encouraged us to limit the egg yolks in our diets because they contain cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol was originally thought to increase blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. However, researchers are now re-evaluating their recommendation to restrict egg yolks. Many scientific studies point to saturated fat and trans fats, not cholesterol, as the major dietary culprits behind heart disease.

 An egg has very little total fat (5 grams/large egg) with most of it (about 3.5 grams) being the healthier unsaturated form and none of it as trans fat. Most of us can enjoy eggs without guilt, but think twice about what accompanies them on your plate . . . and how they are made/served." — (www.eggs.ab.ca/about/eggnutrition.htm)

I will comment very simply, everything in balance and moderation. It’s not easy to let go and just be content. It’s not easy to sit back upon satisfaction of a meal and be thankful for the nutrition our bodies have just received. It scares us to stop there, like we’ll never see a piece of food again. Instead we choose to overindulge.

Often, a lack of nutrient-dense food can actually lead to cravings, and ultimately the consumption of far more calories than we need. Sometimes, we truly cannot possibly still be hungry, but if the food or meal did not hold high levels of nutrients, then on a cellular level, we are still craving very specific and purposeful nutrients. One nutrient that I particularly love to talk about is the essential fatty acid. There are two essential fatty acids (EFA), Linoleic Acid (omega-6), and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (omega-3). These fatty acids are prefaced by the term "essential" simply because they cannot be constructed within the body, and therefore, must be obtained from the diet. Whole food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and leafy greens. In addition, omega-3’s are encapsulated and bottled at your natural food store. However, flaxseeds contain some of the highest amounts of omega-3’s, making flaxseeds an excellent source of this EFA.

Flaxseed, in the form of ground seeds or oil, provides strength for cell membranes (the body’s first defense against infections), healthy skin, hair, nails, and the ability to form hormone-like substances called prostoglandins. Prostoglandins control the body’s immune, cardiovascular, reproductive, and central nervous systems. Without these guys, our blood cannot clot, tumors begin to grow, cells become inflamed, and allergies become intolerable. Flaxseeds are also a great source of fiber, which is extremely important for healthy digestive and circulatory systems.

Why flaxseed and not fish oil or other sources? Well, the two EFA’s mentioned above (omega-3 and omega-6) are ideally consumed in a 1:2 ratio. Most American diets, however, have far too much omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3. In flaxseed oil, the present ratio is 4:1 (omega-3 to omega-6), thus making flaxseed oil one of the highest sources of omega-3. It is important to be aware that you should use flaxseed oil in small amounts (about one tablespoon a day with food or as directed by your doctor), and blend with other oils that contain more omega-6 in order to maintain the right balance, and prevent omega-6 deficiencies.

According to Ann Louise Gittleman, omega-3’s are extremely good for the heart. They prevent blood clotting, repair tissue damage caused by clogged arteries, lower the rate of triglyceride production by the liver, decrease high blood pressure, and arm the body against the autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (Guide to the 40/30/30 Phenomenon, Gittleman, 2002). In addition, several studies indicate that both flaxseed oil and ground flaxseed can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol.

Lignans in flaxseed have been shown to play a role in protecting against prostate, colon, breast, and possibly skin cancer (www.healingdaily.com). Lignans are phytoestrogens, or plant substances, which mimic the actions of the body’s own estrogens by binding to estrogen receptors.

Flax oil must be kept refrigerated, and is available in either bottled, liquid form, or capsules. Both oil and ground seed have a nutty flavor. I like to sprinkle or drizzle on cereal, yogurt, vegetables, eggs, and salads. Do not cook with flaxseed oil, as it will break down the fatty acid composition.

Flaxseeds, and their EFA’s play an important role in maintaining our health and longevity. Using flaxseeds too much (like anything) can result in contraindication. However, in balance and moderation, they offer natural, essential, and powerful properties and benefits, just as our friend the egg does.

 

 

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