Flax, Linum usitatissimum, originated somewhere east of the Mediterranean and west of India and has been used to make linen since the days of ancient Egypt. The long, strong and flexible fibers of the plant’s stem create soft and durable fabric that only becomes softer and more lustrous with age.
Eating flax seed for health is a relatively new idea in this country. Scandinavian people have known its benefits for years, but the tiny, nutrient rich seeds didn’t become popular in this country until the late 1990s. Until then, most of us thought flax was for making linseed oil and linen.
Flax seed is a superfood, so packed with nutrients and fiber that it’s worth including in the diet every day. I can’t imagine oatmeal without it and it’s the perfect addition to green and fruit smoothies. It’s delicious sprinkled on rice, potatoes or yogurt, too. A secret ingredient that makes a good thing even better.
Facts on Flax
- Flax seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for overall brain health as well as for preventing memory loss and depression.
- Including flax seeds in your diet can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels as much as 25 to 65 percent, especially in women.
- Eating flax seeds daily stabilizes blood sugar and can reduce the effects of diabetes.
- A 3 tablespoon serving of flax seeds is as rich in omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids as one pound of fish.
- Flax seeds are rich in fiber: 3 tablespoons contains one half the daily requirement.
- Flax seeds are rich in soluble fiber that carries toxins out of the body.
- Flax seeds are rich in lignans—800 times more than any food on earth—which may help fight prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
- Lignans also decrease the severity of hot flashes and decrease inflammation related to diseases like arthritis and lupus.
- Flax seeds are high in protein, containing 10 grams in each 3 tablespoon serving
- Flax seeds are rich and filling, with their high-fiber content and omega-3 fatty acids, and create a full, satisfied feeling.
Flax seed can be purchased whole or ground. To get the maximum nutrition, it’s important to grind whole flax seed before eating. Buying it already ground is fine, but ground flax seed must be kept refrigerated to keep the oils from becoming rancid. It’s cheaper to buy it whole, and easier to ensure freshness over a longer period of time. Using a blender or an old coffee grinder to grind a few servings at a time is easy enough.
But, what kind of flax? Brown flax or golden flax? Does the brand matter?
Like any other food, quality and freshness really do matter. And, some varieties of flax are more nutrient-rich than others.
I was excited to find some locally-grown brown flax seed this summer in Vermont. At about the same time, I was finishing up some golden flax seed that I’d brought home from a farmers market in Minneapolis. I’d been impressed enough at the time to carry a few pounds home in my suitcase. But, was it really different, or was I swept away in yet another moment of farmers market excitement? The golden flax seed was visibly more oily, had a sweeter smell and a sweet, nutty taste. When ground, the brown flax was light, dry and fluffy.
My golden flax really had been something special, after all.
Grown in North Dakota, this flax seed was noticeably heavier than any I’d seen before, and shiny with oil. It had a sweet, nutty flavor when chewed whole. The variety, developed at the University of North Dakota for its nutritional value, is called “golden omega.” My farmers market vendor is the sales rep for North Dakota farmer Randy Miller’s golden flax, marketed under the name Ellie’s Whole Grains. Ellie is a walking, talking flax evangelist, who radiates health and enthusiasm that would convince even the most reluctant eaters to give it a try. She calls her golden flax seed “gourmet” flax seed.
Much of the packaged flax seed we buy originates in China, which is the third largest producer of flax in the world. Most flax seed is genetically modified. When I buy a bag of flax seed at the health food store, I know very little about where and how it was grown.
Other than stumbling across the brown flax seed in Vermont, I’m not aware of a local source, but I’d love to find one. I know that flax requires a rich soil that drains well and is high in organic matter. It also likes cool nights. Like other grains, it might be that New England farms just lack the wide, open fields that lend themselves to the super-sized farm equipment needed for grain production.
In the mean time, I’m so impressed by my Minneapolis find, that I’ll continue to mail-order a jug of it every few months.
Note: Although I love this brand of flax seed, I have no connection with this company and derive no benefit from promoting it other than the satisfaction of sharing information about a good thing.