Can you heat it? Is it better ground or whole? Answers to these and more flax questions below:
Do I have to buy the oil refrigerated?
Since flax oil is prone to becoming rancid, you'll usually find it in the refrigerated section at your natural products grocer. Some products are on the shelves; as long as they're vacuum-sealed, the oils should be fine. Store opened flax oil in your refrigerator.
Do I have to grind the seeds
before eating them?
Yes. Grinding the seeds makes the protein, fiber, and fatty acids more available to the body. The easiest way to grind whole flax seeds is in a coffee grinder (then store them in the refrigerator). The whole seeds can also be soaked in water for 8 hours, then drunk with the water to act as a soothing laxative.
Can I buy them already ground?
It's better to grind them at home, just before you use them, to ensure that the oils are fresh. But you can purchase preground flax in vacuum-sealed containers, which protect the oils. Store them in the refrigerator once opened.
Is it OK to cook with flax oil?
Not really. Heating damages the essential fatty acids in flax. It's best to drizzle uncooked flax oil over foods after cooking.
What about the seeds? Does cooking destroy the healthful fats?
The seeds are relatively stable and can be used in baking without damage, but higher heat cooking could damage them.
What's the difference between golden and brown flaxseeds?
They're different varieties; golden flaxseed has a more nutty, buttery flavor than brown, but both have the same nutritional content.
What's the best way to eat flax?
Grind the seeds in a coffee mill, and sprinkle them over cereals and into smoothies, or add them to baked goods. Drizzle the oil over salads, cooked vegetables, or grains, or use it as the base for salad dressings.
During the Roman Empire, the health benefits of flax were celebrated. By the early 19th century in America, flax had been demoted to a versatile commodity, grown primarily in cooler northern states. Prized for its soft but durable fiber and its oil-rich seeds, flax was used in consumer goods ranging from fine linens and banknotes to cigarette rolling papers, paint binders, and glazing putty.
Given its versatile history, it's only fitting that flax-now prized for its dense nutritional value-has an equally broad presence. Several thousand years ago, Hippocrates praised flax oil for its medicinal value. Fifty years ago, you'd find flax oil mainly on the shelves of your local paint store, labeled as linseed oil. These days, you'll find flax oil and seeds on your natural grocer's shelves in food items ranging from bread and crackers to mayonnaise.
The Nutritional Flax
Flaxseeds are rich in high-quality protein and soluble fiber, as well as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that's a precursor to eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, the form of omega-3 found in fish oil.
Flaxseeds are also a highly concentrated source of lignans, phytonutrients that modulate hormone metabolism. Flax lignans have some potential anticancer properties, especially in relation to colon and breast cancers. Lignans also help promote normal ovulation and restore hormone balance, and flaxseeds may protect postmenopausal women from cardiovascular disease.
Much of this sneaky appearance of flax has to do with flax's lack of overt culinary appeal. It doesn't have the frankly seductive presence of, say, fresh raspberries or figs. Handled poorly
(e.g., coarsely ground and tossed into smoothies, which is how most people use it)flax can be gritty, bitter, and harsh. In the right company, though, it's warm and nutty, with a deep, earthy flavor that hints of browned butter. Some of our favorite flax foods include:
- Rudi's Organic Bakery 7-Grain with Flax bread, with quinoa flour, and sesame and sunflower seeds.
- Doctor Kracker Seedlander Organic Snack Crackers, with flax-, pumpkin, sesame, and poppy seeds.
- Nature's Path Organic Flax Plus Oatmeal.
- Health Valley Organic Golden Flax Cereal, with oats, wheat bran, brown rice, barley, amaranth, corn, and golden flaxseeds.
- Spectrum Organic Omega-3 Mayonnaise with Flax Oil.
- Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Tortilla Chips, with flax-, sunflower, and sesame seeds.
- Once Again Organic Omega-3 Almond Butter, with flax oil.
- Arrowhead Mills Organic Flax Seeds.
- Barlean's Omega Swirl Omega-3 Flax Oil Supplement in Strawberry-Banana, with cold pressed flax oil (see free sample offer).
- Bob's Red Mill Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal.
TRY IT! Free omega swirl sample
Barlean's innovative Omega Swirl Omega-3 Flax Oil Supplement in Strawberry-Banana is a dessert-style flax oil that provides 2,620 mg of omega-3 fats from flaxseed oil. Another plus: there's no sugar in this 100 percent organic, vegetarian oil. Try it by itself, or mix in yogurt, smoothies, or spoon over fresh fruit.
In June 2009, All Better Nutrition readers can receive a free sample with an informative brochure. Simply e-mail your name, address, and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org; please specify "BN" in the subject line.