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In addition to research on breast cancer, Morris says, other studies are looking at heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes, menopause, osteoporosis, and inflammatory bowel disease, to name just a few.
Yet another study has found that omega-3 fatty acids, and by extension, flaxseed, can reduce the risk of macular degeneration -- an eye disease that destroys vision by damaging nerve cells in the eye. The results of a Harvard study, published in August 2001 in the Archives of Ophthalmology, showed that people with a high intake of omega-6 (vegetable oils) were more likely to develop macular degeneration, while those with a combination of lower omega-6 intake and high omega-3 intake were less likely to have the disease.
"Flaxseed is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids," says Lylas G. Mogk, MD, director of the Henry Ford Visual Rehabilitation and Research Center in Detroit, chairman of the Vision Rehabilitation Committee of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and co-author of Macular Degeneration: TheComplete Guide to Saving and Maximizing Your Sight.
Flaxseed is also good for combating dry eyes, a very common problem, says Mogk, probably because of our poor omega-3 intake. "Dry eyes are usually the result of an insufficient outer oil layer in the tear film, so the water in the tears doesn't have anything to keep it from evaporating," she says. Omega-3 fatty acids help the oil glands produce the proper consistency of oil so it will flow from the oil glands and coat the surface of the eye.
Mogk recommends that her patients take a tablespoon a day of flaxseed oil. "I think all adults should do this," she says, "and most certainly those at high risk for macular degeneration (which includes those between the ages of 65 and 74, those who have a family member with the disease, women, and whites).
Flaxseed is available in supermarkets and health food stores and comes in whole seeds, ground seeds, or oil. Most nutrition experts recommend the ground seeds, which have "all the goodies," says Morris -- the fiber, the lignans, and the essential fatty acids. Whole seeds will pass through your system undigested, she says, while the oil lacks the fiber, which, if nothing else, will help alleviate any problems of constipation. (Some patients with diverticulosis, however, find the ground flaxseed too irritating; for those people, says Lee, the flaxseed oil is a better choice.)
Ninety-six percent of the flaxseed grown in the U.S. is grown in North Dakota because of its cooler climate and wide open spaces, says Kaye Effertz; for those same reasons, Canada is also a top grower of flaxseed. Flaxseed comes in two colors -- reddish brown and golden brown. The color makes no difference when it comes to nutritional value.
Rachel Beller recommends buying ground flaxseed in vacuum-packed bags. Most people refrigerate their flaxseed, but Morris says that's not a necessity (even though she does it herself). Whole seeds will last from 10-12 months, she says, while ground flax has a shelf life of about four months, even out of the refrigerator.
The recommended daily amount of flaxseed is approximately 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed, or 1 teaspoon of flax oil (which is best used cold, perhaps mixed in a vinaigrette salad dressing). Morris' favorite way to get her flaxseed is to mix a tablespoon of the ground seeds with 2 tablespoons of honey, and then spread the mixture on toast. "It has a nutty flavor," she says, "and is a great alternative to buttering your toast."
Texas nutritionist Natalie Elliott offers these additional suggestions for adding flax to your diet:
- Sprinkle ground flax on cereal, yogurt, or salads.
- Mix flax into meatloaf or meatballs.
- Add ground flax to pancake, muffin, or cookie batter, or other baked goods such as pie crust.
- Coat fish or homemade chicken nuggets in ground flaxseed and oven fry.
- Toss salads with flax oil and vinegar.
Or try one of her favorites, "Nat's Flax Snacks":
1 cup Karo corn syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup ground flax
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 cups of Rice Krispies
Mix together the first five ingredients in a saucepot over low heat until melted and smooth. Add Rice Krispies to the pot and stir. Pour contents into a buttered 9"x13" pan. Press down to flatten. Stir, cool, and cut into 8 bars.