Friday, September 3, 2010
Flaxseeds: Another Great Superfood
The Latin name for flaxseeds is, Linum usitatissimum, meaning "most useful", which is an excellent way to describe the health benefits of this seemingly modest little seed. Originating in Mesopotamia, flaxseeds have been around since the Stone Age and were used in cooking and as a medicinal in ancient Greece and Rome. Much later on in France, Charlemagne insisted that they be cultivated and eaten as he recognized their versatility. When the colonists came to North America, they brought the seeds with them, thus making flaxseeds available to settlers who used them in their recipes as well as for natural healing purposes.
Nutrients in Flaxseeds
Slightly larger and more oblong than sesame seeds, flaxseeds sport a hard, shiny husk. Eaten whole, ground, or in oil form, flaxseeds are chock full of manganese, magnesium, folate, copper, phosphorus, vitamin B6, and dietary fiber. They are also extremely high in Omega 3 fatty acids, most especially in alpha linolenic acid, or ALA, making them an excellent alternative for people who don't eat fish. Some of the benefits of Omega 3 fats include their ability to produce prostaglandins, which are anti-inflammatory substances made from fatty acids that helps reduce symptoms of migraine headaches, asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis.
Flaxseeds have the ability to keep cell membranes pliable, which helps nutrients penetrate them more effectively. Additionally, flaxseeds help protect cells from invasion from free radicals and other cancer-causing toxins. Because they specific properties that reduce the formation of blood clots and help to control blood pressure, flaxseeds can also protect and strengthen the heart.
The high fiber content in flaxseeds assists in lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and relieving constipation. Flaxseeds' magnesium content helps to keep respiratory channels open, which is especially helpful to asthmatics.
Flaxseeds also contain lignans, which are compounds that help fight against cancer by choking off the blood supply in tumors and changing how cancer cells adhere to other cells in the body. Lignan-rich foods also help to decrease insulin resistance, making flaxseeds a good choice for people with type 2 diabetes. Lignans also help to normalize ovulation, making flaxseeds helpful for regulating the menstrual cycle as well as peri-menopausal symptoms like headaches, mood swings, low sex drive, hot flashes, and sleeping abnormalities. In this regard flaxseeds help the body restore hormonal balance.
Eating Your Flax
The best way to consume flaxseeds is by grinding the seeds in a coffee or seed grinder just before you are going to eat them, or by using cold pressed flaxseed oil, which should be kept refrigerated as it is highly perishable. Be sure not to cook the oil as heat will ruin its medicinal value. Add flaxseeds to cereal and bread recipes. The ground seeds are excellent in shakes, cereals, or sprinkled over veggies or fruits. The oil can be added to smoothies or used over salads, enhancing them with its nutty flavor.