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Eating Wisely

Flax

Chris Ortenburger
Bonshaw Prince Edward Island Canada
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 5, September-October 2004, p. 189

What is Flax?

Flax is an amazingly useful plant. It is a small herb (Linum usitatissimum) grown in the prairies of North America and Russia, with little five-petaled blue (sometimes white or pink) flowers. The plants are harvested when the seed pods have dried and the fibers of the inner stems are processed to make thread for linen. This process dates back to ancient Egypt.

Flax was one of the original "medicines" used by Hippocrates, according to Dr. William and Martha Sears in The Family Nutrition Book. The seeds are ground and pressed to extract the oil, which has both food and industrial uses.

A Brief Look at the Structure and Function of the Human Brain

Each cell membrane structure in the brain includes two components, which also help control nutrient transfer in and out of brain cells. These two components are both essential polyunsaturated fatty acids: alpha linolenic acid (LNA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids) and linoleic acid (LA, one of the omega-6 fatty acids). LNA is used by the body to make DHA, or docasahexaenoic acid. Nursing mothers can be assured human milk contains DHA in perfect amounts. Adults and older children need to obtain it from other sources (cold water oily fish like salmon and tuna), or manufacture it from LNA.

The Importance of Flax in Diet and Growth

The typical North American diet is higher in hydrogenated fats and the omega-6 oils, which include corn, sunflower, and safflower oil. To improve the ratio of linolenic acid over linoleic acid (or omega-3s over omega-6s), it is recommended to increase consumption of high omega-3 foods, such as flax seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and cold water fish (salmon and tuna).

Flax seeds and flax seed oil are a great source of alpha linolenic acid, or LNA, an omega-3 fatty acid. Flax seed oil is available at grocery and health food stores. It is so unsaturated that upon exposure to oxygen or heat it is oxidized and quickly becomes rancid. Good, fresh flax seed oil has no smell. It should be kept in a colored bottle in the refrigerator and be used before its expiration date. It can be added to smoothies, yogurt, fruit, or salad dressings-basically anything that is not going to be cooked. Flaxseed oil should never be used for cooking.

Whole flax seeds add crunch, texture, and a multi-grain look to baked goods. The whole seeds provide fiber, but are not digested. They must be ground to get their full nutritional benefit.

A small, inexpensive coffee grinder can be used to grind flax seeds. Use about a half cup of seeds at a time, pour out the ground meal, and brush out the grinder with a pastry brush. The ground seeds are rich in protein. They contain a great deal of the phytonutrient lignan, which is credited with anti-cancer properties. It is thought that this is due to the flushing out of excess estrogen from the body. Lignans also seem to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties.

The ground flaxseed meal can be added to salads, mixed in with hot or cold cereals, or used in recipes for baked goods. One ounce of ground flaxseed meal (about four tbsp or about 60mls) provides about six grams of protein and eight grams of fiber.

La Leche League believes in eating a wide variety of foods in as close to their natural state as possible. Adding some flax to a diet makes good nutritional sense. The following recipes can help increase your family's consumption of flax. Experiment with substitute flours, sweeteners, milks, and oils in these recipes to meet your family's needs.


Flax Banana Nut Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 1/2 cups flour (all purpose, whole wheat, or a blend of both)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup (2 or 3) ripe bananas

Topping:

1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix topping ingredients in a small bowl. Place ground meal and dry ingredients in a second bowl. In a larger bowl, mash bananas, add oil, eggs, and sugar. Add dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Pour in greased loaf pan, pat on mixed topping, pressing down gently. Bake at 350° Fahrenheit (180° Celsius) for 50-60 minutes (325° Fahrenheit/170° Celsius for about 45 minutes in a convection oven) or until a toothpick comes out clean.


Lentil Dinner Loaf

1/3 cup lentils
1 1/3 cup cold water
1/2 cup flaxseeds
1/2 cup boiling water
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp Worchester sauce
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped peppers
1/2 chopped parsley, or 1/8 cup dried
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 cup ground nuts or seeds (sunflower, almond, pumpkin, flax)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup whole-grain bread crumbs

Rinse and sort lentils, then cover with cold water and cook for 30 minutes or until tender. Pour boiling water over flaxseed in heat-proof container, and set aside for 20 minutes to form a gel. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, adding the drained cooked lentils, and the flaxseed gel.

Press into a greased loaf pan and bake for about an hour at 350° Fahrenheit (180° Celsius) (325° Fahrenheit/170° Celsius for 50 minutes in a convection oven).

If freezing for another dinner, pour in greased pan or greased foil-lined pan, cover with foil, and freeze. To use, place in oven and bake for about two hours or until center is set.


Flax Meal Cookies

Mix:

1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups ground flaxseed
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar (you can decrease the sugar)

Add:

1 tbsp molasses
2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk/soymilk
2 eggs, beaten

Combine in a different container:

1 cup oat flour
1 cup whole wheat or whole wheat pastry (you can actually use any combination of any flours to make 2 cups)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp wheat gluten

Add dry ingredients to wet. Stir until combined.

Then stir in:

3/4 cup chocolate or carob chips
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Form into balls (the chips and nuts will try to fall out of the balls but keep squeezing), place on cookie sheet and press slightly to flatten, and bake for about 12 minutes at 375 ° Fahrenheit (190 ° Celsius) (350° Fahrenheit/170° Celsius in a convection oven). Let cool on sheet a few minutes.


For more information:

Sears, W. and Sears, M. The Family Nutrition Book. New York, New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1999.

Weil, A. Eating Well for Optimal Health. New York, New York: Quill, 2000.

Last updated Tuesday, October 24, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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