Flax seeds are very rich in the omega 3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), containing over 50% ALA. Only hemp and chia seeds have more omega 3 in a vegetarian form.
Omega 3 fatty acids are probably the most important fats for your health. This is mostly because they help suppress inflammation, a primary cause of many of the degenerative diseases so common today — heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimers, arthritis, and more.
Omega 3 fats play a crucial role for many organs in your body. These include, most significantly, your brain and your heart. In fact, a large portion of the tissue in your brain and heart is comprised of omega 3 fats. Both omega 3 and omega 6 fats are found in the membranes of every cell in your body!
When you look at the list of benefits you get from essential fatty acids, it's easy to see why they are becoming one of the most researched topics in the scientific community — and one of the supplements most often recommended by health practitioners. Omega 3 foods, including flax seeds, have been shown to have a wide range of health benefits, including:
Omega 3 fats also help keep your cell membranes flexible. Cell membranes are designed to allow essential nutrients in while promoting the elimination of wastes. In the colon, omega 3 fats help protect colon cells from cancer-causing toxins and free radicals, reducing your risk for colon cancer.
Ground flax seeds provide a very good source of fiber that can lower cholesterol levels, help relieve constipation and stabilize blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
Aside from a generous amount of the omega 3 fat alpha linolenic acid, these seeds are rich in lignans. Lignans are a type of phytoestrogen (weak estrogenic compounds from plants) that are believed to be one reason why a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk for breast cancer. Lignans may also help relieve menopausal symptoms because of their hormonal properties.
Flax seed oil seems to be able to heal the lining of inflamed intestines that are symptomatic of Crohn's Disease and colitis.
These seeds are very similar in size to sesame seeds and have a hard shell that is smooth and shiny. Their color ranges from light brown to dark brown depending upon the type.
Most nutrition experts recommend ground seeds because since this allows for better absorption of their nutrients. Whole seeds may pass through your intestine undigested, which means you won't get much of their health benefits.
Flax has been used as a food product for thousands of years. Flax (also known as linseed) is an ancient crop that has its origin back in the Babylonian civilization that existed around 3,000 B.C.
How to Select, Store and Use Flax Seeds. These seeds can be purchased either whole or ground. Although ground seeds may be more convenient, whole seeds have a longer shelf life.
Whole seeds are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as in bulk. If you purchase whole seeds, store them in an airtight container in a dark, dry and cool place. Stored properly, they will keep fresh for several months.
If you're buying ground seeds, it's highly recommended to purchase a product that's in a vacuum-sealed package, or has been refrigerated. Ground flax seeds will oxidize and spoil much quicker. Once you get them home, keep them in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent them from becoming rancid.
Flax seed oil is equally perishable and should be purchased in opaque bottles that have been kept refrigerated in the store. It should have a sweet nutty flavor, and isn't suitable for cooking with.
Sprinkle ground seeds on hot or cold cereal, or on top of cooked vegetables. Add whole seeds to your homemade muffin, cookie or bread recipes. You can also add a tablespoon or so to smoothie recipes.
There are many types of essential fatty acids. Besides alpha-linolenic acid, the ones most well-known are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are found primarily in fish oils.
Typical modern day diets are usually lacking in omega 3 fats. Instead, we're consuming lots of omega 6 fats, largely through vegetable oils like corn, canola, soy and others. An imbalance of omega 6 and omega 3 foods in the diet leads to inflammation, which contributes to the onset of degenerative diseases.
Most nutrition experts believe that a health-promoting ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats is no higher than 4:1, and many believe the optimal ratio is 2:1. The typical American diet, however, contains almost 10 times as much omega 6 as omega 3 fatty acids.
To improve your omega 6 to omega 3 ratio, increase your consumption of omega 3 foods such as flax, chia seeds and hemp seeds, soybeans, walnuts, and cold-water fish like wild salmon. Decrease your consumption of foods rich in omega 6 fats, primarily vegetable oils.
You can obtain omega 3 fatty acids from a wide range of food sources. See my page describing sources of omega 3 and you will discover the best ways to get your daily requirement.
As mentioned above, flax seeds are rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA). This omega 3 fat is a precursor to the forms of omega 3 found in fish oils, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA, in addition to providing several beneficial effects of its own, can be converted into EPA and DHA in your body, but only in very small amounts, and only when sufficient enzymes are present.
Current research indicates that EPA and DHA provide more omega 3 benefits than ALA. Vegetarian omega 3 foods are not as beneficial as fish high in omega 3 for this reason.
This does not mean that vegetarian omega 3 fats are not beneficial. Everyone needs them, and they should be consumed as part of a well-balanced diet. For strict vegetarians, chia seeds and hemp seeds are also excellent plant-based omega 3 foods, and may be more beneficial than flax seeds.
Other good vegetarian omega 3 foods include:
If you want to make sure that you get all of the great benefits of omega 3 for yourself, you'll want to check out the different types of omega 3 supplements.
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