Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flaxseed Everywhere

What's all this fuss about flaxseed? Well, just in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t noticed the six million new products “with added flaxseed!” on the label, let me tell you. Flaxseed is one of the healthiest things you can add to your diet. And you don’t need to buy any of the fancy new (processed) food to get it. Before I tell you all the sneaky ways to dose your family with plenty of flaxseed, let me share with you why you should eat it in the first place.

I read about flaxseed over a year ago when my hubby’s cholesterol was reaching levels that were kind of scary. The doctor was on the brink of putting him on drugs for cholesterol and implored him to change his lifestyle. Now, let me tell you about my husband’s lifestyle – he’s thin (he prefers the term “lean”), doesn’t exercise enough but splits wood and rides his bike on occasion, doesn’t like sweet food, and eats most of his meals here at our house where his crazy wife won’t buy processed foods and is always coming up with another new “healthy” recipe. Since I can’t convince him to give up his coffee or beer, there wasn’t much we could do about his lifestyle. So I began adding flaxseed to everything I could – pizza crust, bread, cookies, and just about anything baked. I couldn’t get away with putting it in anything where it’s pasty texture would be noticed, but if it went in the oven, it had flaxseed in it. Guess what happened? At his appointment, approximately six months after I began the flaxseed assault – his cholesterol was just fine. The numbers that were supposed to be low, were low and the numbers that were supposed to be high, were high. So there. That’s enough proof for me to spout off about the benefits of flaxseed for you!

But just in case you don’t trust my personal case study, here’s what the experts say:
Mayo Clinic Nutritionist, Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., says: "Flaxseed is high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and phytochemicals called lignans. Flaxseed is commonly used as a laxative (to improve digestive health or relieve constipation). Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil have been used to help reduce total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol levels and, as a result, may help reduce the risk of heart disease." The docs at WebMD added that flaxseed can help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. It can also reduce inflammation and hot flashes. It can be good for arthritis, depression, constipation, and Chrohn’s disease.

Flaxseed comes from the flaxplant and has been around for centuries. In fact, King Charlemagne, back in the 8th century ordered all his subjects to eat it because he believed in its health benefits. Somehow, we lost the King’s memo, but mark my words, you’ll be seeing a lot more fields of flax in the near future. Fields of flax will be beautiful too – the flower is a pretty blue color with delicate little petals on long stems.

Flaxseed contains three ingredients that make it such a phenom:

1) omega-3 essential fatty acids - I know you’ve heard about these and their heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed has about 1.8 grams!

2) Lignans – these are antioxidants and flaxseed contains 75-800 times more lignans than other plant foods

3) Fiber – both soluble and insoluble

The experts say the optimal dose is 1-2 tablespoons a day. I have to warn you that eating it straight could be tough. You can buy flaxseed oil, but it doesn’t have all the benefits of the straight seed. It’s best eaten in a ground form (flaxseed meal) and even then can make some foods feel pasty in the mouth. That’s why I find it easiest to bake it in to everything. In each loaf of bread I add ¼ cup of flaxseed meal. You’ll have to experiment and figure out how much is too much for your family. Flaxseed does make things moister, which is wonderful for cookies and dough. Store it in the freezer so it stays fresh, especially if you buy it ground.

Ever since I decided to post on flaxseed, I’ve been seeing information about it everywhere. Kind of like when you buy a new car you think is uniquely you, you start seeing the exact same car everywhere, even the same color. No one drove a Pilot until I got one, truly. One tip I read suggested putting flaxseeds in to a spice grinder (like you use for pepper or salt) and grind some in to whatever you are cooking. The idea being that if it’s handy, you’ll be more likely to use it. Clever. I might have to try this. At the feed store yesterday they were selling big bags of flaxseed to feed your chickens so their eggs will be higher in Omega 3’s. Made me wonder if chicken flaxseed is the same grade as flaxseed for humans (it was a bit cheaper, but I decided not to test out the idea). Then I came upon a recipe in Body and Soul Magazine that sounds awesome and mega healthy. I’m all out of quinoa, so I didn’t get a chance to try it first, but I’m taking their word for it and putting it in this post:

Spiced Nuts and Seeds
(Body & Soul Magazine)
Mix 3 ups whole nuts with ¼ cup each flaxseeds, quinoa, and sunflower seeds. In separate bowl, whisk 2 egg whites with 2 tablespoons honey, 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt, and ¼ teaspoon each cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon. Toss with nut mix. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet; bake at 325 until dry, stirring occasionally (about 30 minutes). Scrape from pan while cooling, to avoid sticking.

Here’s a few ideas of foods you can add flaxseed meal to:
Cookies, breads, bagels, pancakes, waffles, pizza crust, muffins, chili, meatloaf, meatballs, soup, oatmeal and casseroles. If you’ve got some other great ideas or recipes, please pass them along. I’ve posted my cookie recipe in the post “To Pack or Not To Pack” March 2009, which includes flaxseed meal.

Hope you’re convinced and already on your way out to buy some flaxseed. Here’s to your health!

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