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North Dakota State University
NDSU Agriculture Communication
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo ND, 58105-5655,
Tel: 701-231-7881, Fax: 701-231-7044

Prairie Fare: Is It True What They Say about Flax?

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist NDSU Extension Service, January 23, 2003

A decade ago I was busily finishing my lab research and preparing to write my doctoral dissertation on the subject of flax. I was also engaged to be married and planning a wedding. Life was hectic. Our wedding day would coincide with my graduation day -- if I finished the writing and if the groom-to-be could withstand "the worst of times" before the wedding. Despite a few nightmares along the way, somehow it all worked out.

I must admit to taking an extended vacation from thinking about flax after spending years studying it. Lately, public interest has grown, so my interest has been tweaked again. New companies have begun selling flax and flax-containing foods, and the number of inquiries about flax has grown.

Flax is an ancient crop with a wide variety of uses over thousands of years. Clothing was made from flax fibers in about 3000 B.C. The potential medicinal properties of flax were noted by Hypocrites, who recommended flax for abdominal pain in 650 B.C. Your grandma may even have made her own hair gel by soaking the seeds in water and applying the resulting floating "goop."

Fiber flax and oilseed flax are the two main types grown. Fiber flax has been used for linen fabric, soap, ink and fine paper. Oilseed flax, used to make linseed oil, is perhaps best known for its use in the paint and varnish industry.

Flax also has been used as animal feed. Lately, however, flax, particularly "omega" or golden flax, is increasingly being explored as "people food."

Nutritionally, flaxseed consists of fat, protein and fiber. It contains some B vitamins such as folate, vitamin B-6 and thiamine, plus the minerals magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, zinc and others.

Most of the research about flaxseed has focused on the essential fatty acids, linoleic acid and linolenic acid. Our bodies cannot make essential fatty acids, so they must be consumed in the diet. Vegetable oils contain a mixture of fatty acids.

Linolenic acid, an "omega-3" fat (named as such due to its chemical structure), has been the focus of much flax research. Omega-3 fatty acids, also high in certain types of fatty fish, are linked with reducing the risk of heart disease.

Another flax component, lignan, has antioxidant properties and is linked with possibly lowering the risk for certain types of cancer. Other sources of lignans include barley, buckwheat, oats, soybeans, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and spinach.

Researchers consider one or two tablespoons of ground flax daily as the safe level for most people. It's important to drink plenty of water because of its high fiber content. Some groups should be cautious about consuming flax. Since no studies have been done with children, daily flax consumption is not recommended. Women who are pregnant, nursing or under breast cancer treatment are also cautioned against regularly consuming flax.

The form of flax consumed is important, too. Whole seed will pass through the gut undigested thanks to the mucilage coating on flaxseed. Grinding with a coffee mill allows digestion. Ground flax has a shorter shelf life than whole seed, and refrigeration will extend the storage life of flax.

Flaxseed has a nut-like flavor, and some people add it to fruit smoothies, juice or baked goods. Here's a tasty flax-containing snack recipe.

Granola Bars

1/4 c. butter or margarine
4 c. mini-marshmallows
1 c. rolled oats
1 c. crushed graham crackers
1/2 c. ground flax
1/2 c. raisins, dried cranberries or other chopped dried fruit
1/4 c. sunflower seeds
1/4 c. coconut

Melt butter or margarine in large saucepan. Add marshmallows, stirring until melted and remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients until coated. Press into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Cool and cut into 24 bars.

Makes 24 servings. Each serving contains 120 calories, 19 grams carbohydrate, 4.4 grams fat, 0.8 grams saturated fat and no cholesterol.


Kathie Richardson
NDSU Library
Fargo, ND 58105

Last updated: 09.05.2007

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