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3. Ground Flaxseed

Flaxseed is a small, amber-colored seed that's been around for centuries. But don't let its size fool you: it packs quite a nutritional wallop. Many of the studies on the health effects of flaxseed have been done using ground flaxseed, pure and simple (you'll need to grind it yourself to allow your body to access its helpful components).

Ground flax contains:

  • Both types of fiber (soluble and insoluble)
  • One of the planet's most potent sources of phytoestrogens, called lignans. Phytoestrogens are active substances derived from plants that have a weak estrogen-like action in the body.
  • Plant omega-3 fatty acids

At the level of 1 to 2 tablespoons a day, there don't appear to be any negative health consequences to eating ground flaxseed. And research has shown there are many potential benefits, including:

  • Possible protection against cancer and reduction of tumor growth (such as breast, prostate and colon).
  • A reduced risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that flaxseed lowers the risk of blood clots and stroke and cardiac arrhythmias. It may also help to lower total and LDL "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides, and even blood pressure.
  • Better regulation of bowel functions, and prevention of constipation.
  • Possible improvements in blood sugar (glucose) control and insulin resistance.
  • Possible benefits in many immune system diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

To get the biggest healthy bang for your one buck (a pound of flaxseed costs about $1 in your health food store), you're probably better off getting all of the flaxseed components together in the ground seed rather than just the lignans or just the omega-3s. For example, lignans have been linked to boosting the immune system, but so have omega-3s -- just through different metabolic pathways. Lignans appear to offer a measure of protection against some cancers. So do omega-3s -- again, through different mechanisms.

I do have one caution about flaxseed: Until more studies on humans are completed, Lilian Thompson, PhD, a pioneer in flaxseed research, recommends that pregnant women not eat flaxseed.

You can easily add ground flaxseed to:

  • Smoothies (my personal favorite).
  • Hot or cold breakfast cereals.
  • Muffins and breads you make at home. Replace no more than 1/4 cup of every cup of flour the recipe calls for with ground flaxseed.
  • Yogurt or cottage cheese.

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