Flax oil and flax seeds are true health foods. Flax is actually one of the older and, perhaps, one of the original “health foods,” treasured because of its healing properties throughout the Roman empire. Flax was one of the original “medicines” used by Hippocrates. The very nutrients that give flax its nutritional benefits – essential fatty acids – also give it a short shelf life, making it more expensive to produce, transport, and store. Yet, those who are nutritionally in the know continue to rank flax high on the list of must have foods.
Benefits of Flax
Besides being the best source of omega 3′s, flax oil is a good source of omega 6, or linoleic acid (LA). Flax oil is 45 to 60 percent the omega-3 fatty acid alphalinolenic acid (ALA).
In addition to nutritious fats, flax seeds contain other nutrients which make eating the whole seed superior to consuming just the extracted oil:
- Flax seeds contain a high quality protein.
- Flax seeds are rich in soluble fiber. The combination of the oil and the fiber makes flaxseeds an ideal laxative.
- Flax seeds contain vitamins B-1, B-2, C, E, and carotene. These seeds also contain iron, zinc, and trace amounts of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin E and carotene, two nutrients which aid the metabolism of the oil.
Flax seeds contain over a hundred times more of a phytonutrient, known as lignin, than any of its closest competitors, such as wheat bran, buckwheat, rye, millet, oats, and soybeans. Lignins have received a lot of attention lately because of possible anti-cancer properties, especially in relation to breast and colon cancer. Lignins seem to flush excess estrogen out of the body, thereby reducing the incidence of estrogen-linked cancers, such as breast cancer. Besides anti-tumor properties, lignins also seem to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.Flax seeds, because they contain some protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and lignins, are more nutritious than their oil. When buying seeds, be sure they are whole, not split; splitting exposes the inner seed to light and heat and decreases the nutritional value. Pre-grounded flax seeds, are available as flaxseed meal.
Flax oil, flax seeds, and the omega-3 fatty acids they contain are good for your health. Here are some of the ways flax helps your body.
- Flax promotes cardiovascular health. The ultra-high levels of omega-3 fatty acids lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Fish oils and algae are also good sources of essential fatty acids.
- Flax promotes colon health. It has anti-cancer properties and, as a natural lubricant and a rich fiber source, it lowers the risk of constipation.
- Flax supplements can boost immunity. One study showed that school children supplemented with less than a teaspoon of flax oil a day had fewer and less severe respiratory infections than children not supplemented with flax oil.
- Flax provides fats that are precursors for brain building. This is especially important at the stage of life when a child’s brain grows the fastest, in utero and during infancy. A prudent mom should consider supplementing her diet with a daily tablespoon of flax oil during her pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
- Flax promotes healthy skin. I have used flax oil as a dietary supplement in my patients who seem to have dry skin or eczema, or whose skin is particularly sun-sensitive.
- Flax may lessen the severity of diabetes by stabilizing blood-sugar levels.
- Flax fat can be slimming. Fats high in essential fatty acids, such as flax, increase the body’s metabolic rate, helping to burn the excess, unhealthy fats in the body. Eating the right kind of fat gives you a better fighting chance of your body storing the right amount of fats. This is called thermogenesis , a process in which specialized fat cells throughout the body (called brown fat) click into high gear and burn more fat when activated by essential fatty acids, especially gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). I have personally noticed that I crave less fat overall when I get enough of the healthy fats. A daily supplement of omega 3 fatty acids may be an important part of weight control programs.
Flax Oil Usage and Tips
- It is not recommended to use flax oil for cooking as oils high in essential fatty acids and heat can turn these healthy fats into harmful ones. Add flax oil to foods after cooking and just before serving.
- Flax has turns rancid quickly. Healthy fats spoil quickly, with olive oil being an exception to the rule.
- Purchase only refrigerated flax oil stored in black containers.
- Keep your flax oil in the refrigerator with the lid on tight to minimize exposure to heat, light, and air.
- Because the oil is likely to turn rancid within six weeks of pressing, buy flax oil in smaller containers.
- Flax oil works best in the body when it’s taken along with antioxidants, such as vitamins E, carotene, and other nutrients, such as vitamin B6 and magnesium. While a tablespoon of flax oil a day might not keep the doctor away entirely, it is bound to help.