The Facts on Flax

Flax has been the “it” girl of the nutrient world for a few years so you don’t need to hear that it’s good for you. A quick primer though in case you’ve forgotten why … Flax is a grain that is high in Omega 3 fatty acids. We don’t get enough Omega 3s. We get lots of Omega 6 from other grains like corn and from the meat of corn fed animals, and our bodies make our own Omega 9s, but the 3s (also high in salmon, sardines and walnuts) get short changed.

Omegas, by the way, are fats that the body uses to make hormone-like chemicals that are used to regulate pretty much every bodily function. If the Omegas are not in balance it can throw our body out of balance.

So flax is a great way to get to 3’s but it turns out that the form in which you eat flax, makes a difference.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Whole seeds are not the way to go. They’re now in everything from cereal (where they get jiggled down to the bottom of the box so that the last serving before the box is empty is 90% seeds), to bread and muffins and pancake batter. But they won’t do you much good except provide insoluble fiber ie. roughage that cant’ be digested. They basically take a trip through your intestines with their protective armor in tact, so your body can’t access them and take advantage of their nutritional assets.
  •  Grinding them up into flax meal, breaks open the shell and allows your body to access the oil. You can buy them ground or do it yourself in a coffee or spice grinder. Flax meal though is less shelf stable than seeds which is why cereal makers add the seeds and not the flax meal.
  • The oil is the most efficient way for your body to access the fatty acids. The oil does not however contain “lignans” which are a phytochemical found in the seeds and lost when the oil is extracted.  If you’re eating flax meal as well as oil, you’re already getting the lignans, but if you only consume the oil, you might want to get the oil that has lignans added back in (which will be stated clearly on the front of the label.)
  • Keep the oil and ground flax seeds in fridge as it breaks down easily in the heat.
  • Don’t cook with the oil.  It will reach its smoke point very quickly and most of the nutrients will be destroyed.

So that’s it on my end …. Anything you’ve learned about flax you want to share? What’s your fave way to eat it?

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  • Rita

    I love flax seeds and use ground up ones in all of my baked goods and smoothies. I have also recently discovered that chia seeds are also high in Omega 3’s and apparently don’t have to be ground for digestion. If you add milk to them with a touch of honey and let them sit in the fridge for a few hours you get delicious healthy pudding! I also use the chia seeds where you would normally use poppy seeds.

  • Sarah

    I sometimes use flax as a replacement for eggs. I use 1 tablespoon of ground flax meal and 3 tablespoons of water, then stir and let it sit for five minutes. I have used it really successfully in baked goods and elsewhere, for example, salmon cakes.

  • Meg

    I listened in to a talk on a Cancer with Susan Weed and she was talking about a placebo study that had given a muffin to stage one cancer patients, both men and women, some were given one with 2 tsp of flax seeds cooked into it, the others didn’t…those that got the flax showed some sign of improvement or their caner completely improved.

  • Danielle

    I was at a conference last fall and a researcher in Saskatchewan presented a really interesting study where they looked at the effects of 3 heaping tbsp of ground flax in the diet. While I can’t remember the results exactly, there were lots of health outcomes that benefited, mostly with blood lipid profiles. I love to use ground flax in lots of things, mostly baking or in porridges. I keep whole flax seeds in the freezer and then grind them up fresh whenever i need them.
    Nutritionally though, while these fats are omega-3s. They are short chain and must be converted to long chain in order to be utilized for those anti-inflammatory properties they are known for (not to say the short chain versions don’t have any biological activity). This conversion is pretty poor in humans, about 8% in women, as low as 4% in men. Even with this poor conversion, flax still has it’s benefits so I still eat it up!

  • wheezer57

    for the sweet tooth: 1 cup oats,1/2 cup grn.flaxseed,1/2 cup chocolate chips(i use the dark chips),1/2 cup pnut butter,(jif natural)1/3 cup honey and 1 teaspoon vanilla…combine,chill and enjoy!

    • wheezer57

      forgot!…roll into small balls then chill…makes about 18 balls.

  • Fred

    Really nice article with excellent information! My only advice is to always GO ORGANIC!! You never know where Monsanto is lurking!

  • L.A.

    Started to experience some anxiety issues with the onset of menopause and some hypoglycemia. On the advice of my naturopath, I began taking up to 4 tablespoons of flax seed oil daily. My body calms almost immediately after taking that oil!

  • Jen Hunter

    Per my doctor’s suggestion, I’ve been taking flax seed oil every night before bed…happy to say my cholesterol has dropped – a bonus!

  • Autumn

    The popularity of flax has also made its way into pet foods, especially dog foods, because of its omega content (and advertised as a skin supplement). However, just because it’s good for us, doesn’t mean it’s good for them, and the canine digestive system can’t digest some things without additional enzymes to do so (which they get from eating entrails of vegetarian animals in the wild.) Some dogs are allergic to flax (my pup is violently so) which makes it difficult to find a dog food or treats without flax in it, either whole or ground, and most hypoallergenic grain-free dog foods contain tons of flax… ironically, for some poor dogs that happen to be allergic to the hypoallergenic ingredients. Anyway, the indigestibility of the whole flax seed by humans reminded me of the incompatibility of flax in dog diets and I thought I’d share.

  • teti konstantinidou

    You might also find this useful:
    “Like other sources of fiber, flaxseed should be taken with plenty of water or other
    fluids. Flaxseed shouldn’t be taken at the same time as oral medications or
    other dietary supplements. As always, talk with your doctor before trying any
    dietary supplements.”

  • Kasia

    Flax seed -great way to get rid of heartburn !
    My husband who struggles with heartburn uses my granny´s old flax recipe; He pours hot water over 1-2 teaspoons of FINELY grounded flax seeds. What happens then is that the mixture becomes slimy and when you drink it it “protects” the walls of the eating tube and thus stops the heartburn. In order to see the results you have to drink it for couple weeks before eating in the morning and before going to bed.( You can drink it as many times you want!) Besides that it helps to get rid of heartburn this mixture is really good for the whole digestion system. Really recommend it for someone with chronic heartburn!

  • Cathi Graham

    I love flax! I like to add it to smoothies and sprinkle it on my cereal. Flax seeds can also be used to make all natural hair gel, by soaking the seeds in water until the consistency is like jelly. Then you can strain out the seeds and use it as hair gel that gives your hair the hold it needs, but doesn’t leave your hair crunchy.

  • Carla | Gluten Free Recipe Box

    I love flax seeds for their nutritional values. They contain the same slimy ingredient found in aloe vera. I figure if aloe solutions heal my skin, it certainly can heal the inside of my body.

  • rick shide

    chia seed is 4 times more nutritious than flax

  • mk

    Can someone please explain why we shouldn’t take flaxseed meal with oral medication.

    • Jane

      From the U of Maryland Medical Center website:

      Possible Interactions

      Flaxseed supplements may alter
      the effects of some prescription and nonprescription medications. If you
      are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you
      should not use flaxseed without first talking to your health care

      Blood-thinning medications — Omega-3
      fatty acids may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you also
      take blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel
      (Plavix), or aspirin. In some cases, the combination of aspirin and
      omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful, but they should not be taken
      together except under a doctor’s supervision.

      Medications for diabetes
      — Flaxseed may lower blood sugar levels. If you are taking medicines
      for diabetes, including insulin, you should use flaxseed (ALA) only
      under your doctor’s supervision.

      Birth control pills or hormonal replacement therapy (HRT)
      — Flaxseed may change hormonal levels and change the effects of oral
      contraceptives or HRT. If you are taking oral contraceptive or HRT, ask
      your doctor before taking flaxseed.

  • Danny

    Just thought you guys should know that there is one flaxseed oil that I know of which you can cook with. It has a high smoke point on par with canola and avocado oil. Just google flaxseed cooking oil.