Care of Andrea Gourgy
Flax has garnered a lot of media attention recently, and rightly so, as its nutritional properties are said to protect against everything from cancer to heart disease and stroke. But while its popularity may be a recent phenomenon, flax has actually been around for thousands of years.
Also known as linseed, flax was cultivated in Babylon way back in 3000 BC and Hippocrates, the father of medicine around 650 BC, wrote about flax for the relief of abdominal pain. Nowadays, Canada leads the world’s flax production with thousands of acres of land in the prairies dedicated to growing flax.
Flax seeds contain about 42 percent oil, and more than half of that oil is omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic fatty acid or ALA). Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can protect against heart disease, stroke, hypertension and even autoimmune disorders. Vegetarians and vegans are at particular risk for deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids (after all, the most common source of omega-3 fatty acids for omnivores is fish). Flax, as a plant-based source of omega-3, can play an important role in vegetarian and vegan diets. Flax also contains phytoestrogens called lignans that, in animal studies, have shown to prevent breast and colon cancer. Flax is one of few plant foods that are rich in these compounds.
And as if that’s not enough, flax contains both insoluble and soluble fibre, which in turn help prevent constipation and can lower blood cholesterol. If you’re hoping to benefit from flax’s many healthy properties, ground flax is probably a better bet. Flax seeds are hard, and grinding them makes the seed’s oils more readily absorbed. Flax seeds can be stored at room temperature for up to a year, but ground flax (or flax meal) should be stored in the refrigerator and will keep for about three months.
Flax seeds are a versatile addition to any dish. Add them to salads, dressings, smoothies and even baking, like the cookie recipe below.