How to Incorporate Flax into your Diet

Flaxseeds can be found at most cooperative markets, bulk-food stores, and natural health food stores or directly through a manufacturer. Below are the main forms of flax that are available in markets today.

Whole or ground flax

Known for the nutty flavor it adds to dishes, these reddish-brown or golden-yellow seeds can be added to virtually any food. Add whole or ground flax to a homemade baked good recipe; sprinkle on yogurt, cereals, soups or salads; add to trail mixes or toss into shakes. Because the outer hull of the seed is very difficult to digest, it is generally recommended that you grind or mill the whole flaxseed to get the greatest nutritional benefit. This can be done with your coffee grinder, blender or food processor to a coffee-ground consistency, or purchased already in the ground or milled form.

When baking, ground or milled flaxseed can be substituted for fat at a ratio of 3 to 1. For example, ½ cup of butter or margarine can be replaced by 1-½ cups of flax. Be aware that baked goods containing flax brown more quickly so you may want to adjust cooking times. Just want to add a little flax but don't want to replace the fat in a recipe? Use up to 2 Tablespoons of ground or milled flaxseed without altering any other ingredients, or sprinkle a little flax on top of yeast or quick breads for added crunch.

Whole flax can be stored at room temperature for up to one year. Because flax contains a significant amount of fat, the ground form can become rancid quickly. Store ground or milled flax at refrigerator temperatures for up to 3 months or grind the flax as you need it. A benefit to buying pre-ground or milled flax is that many manufacturers treat it with antioxidants, extending the shelf life.

Flaxseed oil

Flaxseed oil is a wonderful form of ALA however, in the oil form it lacks the additional benefit of fiber, lignans and protein. For the benefits of ALA, add small amounts (1-2 teaspoons) of flaxseed oil to a marinade, smoothie, and shake or as a salad dressing. Flaxseed oil is sometimes difficult to find but can be purchased by ordering directly from a manufacturer or in the refrigerator section of some health food stores. Flaxseed oil becomes rancid very quickly; store in a refrigerator no more than 6-8 weeks. The shelf life is even shorter if you do not refrigerate.

Other forms of flax

Below is just a small list of some types of food products that contain flax.

  • Cereals, ready-to-eat and cooked
  • Breads
  • Crackers
  • Energy bars
  • Muffin, bread, pancake and waffle mixes
  • Frozen waffles
  • Omega-3 enriched eggs (hens are fed the flaxmeal)
  • Snack items like chips, trail mixes and muesli

Read food label packages carefully to determine if flax is an ingredient. Most products will tell you right on the front of the package but check the ingredient's list too.

Pills and supplements

Almost as soon as a nutrient is found to have potential in fighting disease, a synthetic supplement is soon created, touting the same disease-fighting benefits. The story is no different for flax. There are currently two forms of flax sold in pill-form, one containing ground flax the other flax oil. The oil-based have the same downsides as flax oil - lacking dietary fiber, lignans and protein and having a short shelf life. The ground flax types have the same benefits as ground flax, except you need to consume several capsules (sometimes 8 or more) each day to get the same benefit that a few teaspoons of ground flax would have. That's a lot of pills!

Another downside to taking pills is that research is still in its infancy. Researchers may find years from now that there are other components in the actual flaxseed that result in health benefits. This nutrient could be lost in the processing of the pill. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to have regulatory control over supplements, meaning there's no real oversight on their production. The prudent approach would be to wait until further research is conducted.

How Much Flax Should I Eat?

At this time there is no gold standard serving size to consume for maximal heart-protection, but as more and more research unveils the cardiovascular benefit of flax, specific dietary recommendations may be established. A prudent intake of ground or milled flaxseed is around 2-3 Tablespoons per day, added to any foods you choose. Incorporating food products containing flax is also a great way to reap its heart-healthy benefits.

Whichever form you choose, it is always best to contact your doctor and/or registered dietitian before you incorporate flax into your diet. Do not use flax as a substitute for any prescription medications you are currently taking.

Enjoy the nutty flavor and texture that flax has to offer! Let your taste buds and your heart benefit from what this versatile food has to offer.

Reviewed: 09/11 #332171