Several people have asked me how they are supposed to eat flax seeds, which are often touted for their wide range of health benefits. Personally, I like to stir them into my smoothies at breakfast time — but I thought it was a good question to ask Leo Galland, MD, an authority on nutritional medicine whose research and writing has highlighted the important role played by the omega-3 fatty acids found in flax seeds. Dr. Galland is director of The Foundation for Integrated Medicine in New York and author of Power Healing: Use the New Integrated Medicine to Cure Yourself.
Flax has a rich history, he told me. Cultivated since the dawn of history, the tiny seeds of this plant were supposedly used to provide nutritional sustenance to soldiers of the Roman legion as they expanded their empire. Flax stems were and still are used as a source of fiber to make linen clothing. Modern science continues to confirm the powerful nutritional benefits of flax seeds in supporting cardiovascular health. “Flax seeds are an excellent vegetarian source of the omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to the heart, brain and immune system,” says Dr. Galland.
Research indicates that consumption of flax seeds may help:
- Reduce blood levels of cholesterol (including the so-called “bad” LDL-cholesterol).
- Decrease blood levels of triglycerides, another potential risk factor for heart disease.
- Reduce absorption of sugar from food, slowing blood sugar spikes during digestion.
- Increase blood levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), the omega-3 fatty acid that boosts mood and fights inflammation.
- Maintain a healthy ratio of estrogen to progesterone during the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women.
Dr. Galland added that to achieve maximum benefit, omega-3 foods including flax seeds should be consumed as part of a nutrient-dense diet high in antioxidants from fruit and vegetables.
HEALTHY EATING TIPS
Though flax seed oil is widely available and recommended by some experts, Dr. Galland prefers freshly ground flax seeds which deliver the additional nutritional benefits of the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid important in cardiovascular health (higher ALA is generally associated with a decreased risk of heart disease)… the high concentration of inflammation fighting/cholesterol-reducing lignans… and the fiber from the seed. You can purchase flax seeds at health food stores and in some supermarkets. Dr. Galland says to buy packaged ones, rather than bulk, because they are fresher and cleaner. Dr. Galland prefers organic flax seeds, which have no pesticides. He also recommends buying relatively small amounts at a time, as the nutritional value fades with age. Because flax seeds have a very hard outer layer, you will need to grind them with a coffee grinder right before eating.
Dr. Galland told me he likes to build his flax seed consumption into the first meal of the day, breakfast. He sprinkles one tablespoon of freshly ground flax seeds into his oatmeal, but says they’re also good with cold cereal or mixed into a smoothie. Similarly, flax seeds can be stirred into yogurt or sprinkled atop a healthy dessert such as unsweetened applesauce, with added cinnamon. Or flax seeds can be tossed into a salad, adding a nutty taste and texture. For more recipes featuring flax seeds, see The Fat Resistance Diet.
Note: Flax seeds need to be consumed with adequate water or they can cause an intestinal blockage. Drink eight ounces of water along with each tablespoon of flax seed.