Fun with Flaxseeds

Flaxseed, although first cultivated in Babylon around 3000 BCE, has recently gained popularity in the health food world. But despite its presence in the bulk section of Whole Foods and in the Bob’s Red Mill bags, many consumers interested in flaxseed may still not fully understand its health benefits and how to incorporate it into our diets.

Flax SeedsThe health benefits of flaxseed are astounding.  The Bob’s Red Mill package summarizes these benefits the most concisely using the letters of the actual word “flax:”

F- Fiber: 2 tablespoons contains 4 grams of fiber (equivalent to a serving of oatmeal or a cup of blueberries).  Fiber helps keep harmful LDL cholesterol levels low and maintain the good HDL cholesterol levels.
L- Lignans: A natural antioxidant that prevents unchecked cellular growth and promotes a healthy hormonal balance.  Flaxseed has at least 75 times more lignans than other plant foods: 2 tablespoons of flaxseed has the same amount of lignans as 30 cups of broccoli.
A- Alpha-linolenic acid: an important omega-3 acid that is difficult to find in other plants.  For more information about omega-3 acids, see my crEATe blog entry, about Understanding Fats.
X- Excellent choice!

The nutritional benefits of flaxseed have led to studies supporting flaxseed’s role in protecting against breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  Other findings show that the phytoestrogen contained in the lignans of the flaxseed may alleviate menopausal symptoms. Still more findings indicate that the omega-3 acids in flaxseed can reduce inflammation in arthritis sufferers and even improve symptoms of depression by promoting healthy brain function.

When buying flaxseeds, it’s important to note that your body cannot absorb the nutritional benefits of flaxseeds by eating them whole.  So if you’re not going to grind the flaxseeds yourself (you can do this in a coffee grinder or food processor), definitely opt for the ground variety.  Milled or ground flaxseed are both the same as flaxseed meal, so don’t be confused by the product label.  Although whole flaxseeds can be stored at room temperature, ground flaxseeds will oxidize and lose their nutritional benefits.  For this reason, it’s important to store ground flaxseeds in the refrigerator or freezer in a dark, airtight container or bag.

For vegans, flaxseed makes a great egg substitute.  To make one fake “egg,” whisk together 1 tablespoon flaxseed and 3 tablespoons water in a bowl and let stand for two minutes.

If you’re trying to work more flaxseed into your diet, start by adding flaxseed to your usual breakfast foods.  Flaxseed’s nutty flavor readily enhances oatmeal, cold cereal, and yogurt.  Simply add a couple of spoonfuls of flaxseed just before eating.  You can also add a few tablespoons of flaxseed to breads, cookies, muffins, pancakes, and waffles. In this case, flaxseed will substitute for some of the flour.  I love to add flaxseed—and cinnamon—to peanut butter for enhanced flavor, texture, and extra nutrients.

Here are a couple recipes to get you started your flaxseed adventures.  Remember, the easiest way to incorporate flaxseeds into your diet, is to start adding small quantities to foods you like to eat.  It may take some time to get used to the taste, but you’ll soon love the new taste and texture!

Banana-Flax Pancakes
These pancakes are a delicious treat that provides a good source of whole grains, cinnamon, and flaxseed.
1 ½ cups flour (you can use part whole wheat or oat flour)
2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. agave sweetener
1 ¼ cup nondairy milk
2 very ripe bananas, mashed

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, flaxseed, baking powder, and cinnamon.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, blend together the agave sweetener, nondairy milk, and mashed bananas.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat.  Ladle ¼ cup batter on to the pan.  Cook until small bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes.  Flip with a spatula and cook on the other side until lightly browned.  Enjoy!

Banana-Flax Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour (you can use part whole wheat white or oat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup flaxseed
3 medium-sized, very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
½ cup nondairy milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup agave sweetener
oats and/or turbinado sugar, optional

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Oil a 9×5 loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and flaxseed.
  3. In a medium bowl, blend the bananas, nondairy milk, oil, and sweetener.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until blended.
  4. Pour mixture into prepared pan.  Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to bread cool in pan before serving.  Enjoy!

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