Prairie Fare: Is It True
What They Say about Flax?
By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food
and Nutrition Specialist NDSU Extension Service, January
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
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
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
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
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.
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.