By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What They Are
Flax, a crop cultivated since ancient times, produces fibers that are processed into linen cloth. The plant's seeds (aka linseeds) are used as cattle feed and, when eaten regularly by humans, impart fantastic health and nutritional benefits.
The Dirty Deets
Flax seeds are coated in shells that serve as armor against your digestive system. For this reason, they need to be ground up in order to release their nutrients. You can grind the seeds yourself or look for ground flaxseed (aka flax meal) in the cereal aisle of your grocery store. A tablespoon of flax meal offers 37 calories, about 2 grams of fiber, over a gram of protein and 3 grams of omega-3- and omega-6-loaded fat. In addition, flax meal is an excellent source of magnesium, manganese, fiber, thiamin and selenium. All that nutrition, and it tastes pretty good too!
- Flax contains lignans, substances in plants that act like the hormone estrogen. Specific research on colorectal, breast and lung cancer points to lignans being the phytonutrients associated with cancer prevention.
- Counterintuitive but true: Eating mostly fat-based flaxseed has been linked in animal studies to lowering abdominal obesity. Other potential benefits include a decrease in blood pressure and glucose levels, according to animal studies. Who couldn’t use a bit of ground flax a day to help keep the doc at bay?
- Flax is good for the noggin, too. In various human and animal studies, those amazing omega-3s have been linked to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, the support of brain development, and the lessening of symptoms associated with depression and ADD/ADHD.
How To Chow Down
Because flax meal has the texture of flour and is pretty undetectable to the taste buds, you can blend it into virtually anything. Picky eaters won't even notice!
- Mix it into yogurt, a smoothie or your favorite batter. Because flax meal withstands high temps, it works well as a breading or in a quiche crust.
- Ground flax mixed with water is a great egg or fat substitute. If you decide to switch to flaxseed oil, look for a variety that says “Lignan SDG,” which means that lignans removed from the oil were added back in.
- Flax meal works beautifully in meatballs, over a bed of zucchini noodles... yum!
In The Know
Flaxseed lasts several months in the fridge or freezer, but flax meal needs to be cold-stored and used within a couple of weeks or it goes rancid. And remember to go slow: Start with small doses so your body has time to adjust to all that good fiber. You’ll feel flax-tastic in no time.