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Flax Seeds

If you are trying to increase the amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids in your diet, flax seeds are a good choice. Flax seeds are the richest commonly available seed source of alpha-linolenic acid (plant-source omega-3's). If you eat whole flax seed rather than flax seed oil, you get the whole seed package: protein, fiber, minerals and phytochemicals along with the omega-3's.

100 grams of flax seed yields about:
35 grams of fat (60% omega-3 polyunsaturated, 18% monounsaturated, 10% saturated)
26 grams of protein
26 grams of fiber (14 grams insoluble, 12 grams soluble)
4 grams of minerals
9 grams of water (1)

Flax seeds are also probably the best food source of the phytochemical lignan, (not to be confused with lignins, a type of fiber.) Flax contains 100 times the concentration of lignan as wheat bran, the next best source. This phytochemical is believed to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-cancer properties (1)

Unless you do something to break the hard outer coating of the flax seeds, they may pass through undigested. You can whirl them in a blender for a few seconds to break them into rough pieces, or mash them with a mortar and pestle. Or grind them into a meal with a coffee mill or spice grinder.

Omega-3's are the least stable of the fatty acids, so the oil turns rancid quickly if it is exposed to heat, light or air. Grind the seeds shortly before you eat them, and store any surplus in the refrigerator. Sprinkle your seeds on cereal, into salads or any other food. They have very little flavor and just a bit of crunch. If they taste unpleasant, they're rancid and you need a new batch. (Rancid flax seeds or flax seed oil will smell like paint thinner).

A caution: do not eat more than three or four tablespoons of raw flax seeds a day (we think one or two is plenty.) They contain cyanogen which is harmless in small amounts, but in large amounts could act to keep your thyroid from taking up enough iodine. Cyanogen is rendered inactive by cooking (2). Add some flax seeds to your healthy diet that is full of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and other seeds. Don't go overboard and eat them by the cupful! That applies to all foods -- don't eat huge amounts of any single food, no matter how beneficial it's supposed to be. A healthful diet is a varied diet.

(1) Erasumus, Udo, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Alive Books, 1993, 279-288.
(2) Simopoulos, Artemis P., The Omega Diet, Harper Perennial, 1999, 149-150.

Checked 12/9/13

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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