What is flax?
Flax is a beautiful, blue-flowering plant that is grown for its seed. Most often cultivated in the northern climates of the United States and Canada, the petals of this plant are responsive to day length, opening in the morning and closing by late afternoon. Flax has a slender stalk and stands approximately 3 feet tall. Come harvest, the beautiful blue flowers are shed and are replaced by bolls (circular capsules filled with up to 10 seeds). When shaken, the seeds can be heard moving inside of the boll, much like a rattle. Once separated from the boll, flax seeds are visibly flat, smooth and taper to a point on one end.
Flax has become widely recognized as a health food. It is praised for its high content of healthy fats, lignans, and dietary fiber.
Healthy Fats: The oil in flaxseed is low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fat. More than half the fat found in flaxseed is alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s may help protect against both coronary heart disease and stroke. As these essential fats are lacking in most modern diets, flax is important as an omega-3 supplement. Flaxseed can also have a positive influence on autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and lupus.
Lignans: Ground or whole flaxseed provides up to 800 times more lignans (components that researchers believe assist in the prevention of colon cancer) than any other plant. Flaxseed oil contains virtually no lignans, making the consumption of flaxseed in its ground or whole form even more desirable.
Dietary Fiber: Flax contains a high quality of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels while insoluble fiber helps to improve laxation.
How do I use flax?
Flaxseed must be ground in order to get maximum benefits from the omega-3 oils and fiber. If purchasing whole flaxseed, simply place the seeds in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender and grind to your desired consistency. Whole flaxseed can be stored for years in a clean, dry container. A daily ingestion of two tablespoons is recommended, however you may want to gradually work up to that level if you are not currently consuming a high quantity of fiber.
Flax has a nutty flavor, which can be added to many foods. Try putting it on your breakfast cereal, yogurt, smoothie or drinking it in your favorite beverage. Flax can also be added to almost any baking recipe; it is a great addition to breads, muffins and pancakes! Flax can be utilized as a substitute for fat in baked goods. Use 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed for each 1 tablespoon of margarine, butter or cooking oil. Baking with flax as a fat substitute will cause baked goods to brown more quickly. It is also possible to substitute flaxseed for eggs in recipes. Use 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed and 3 tablespoons of water for each egg that a recipe calls for. Combine both flax and water in a small bowl and let sit a few minutes before adding.
For additional information on the benefits and uses of flaxseed, visit http://www.ameriflax.com/.