Back in the eighties, when parents were mostly not aware of the ills of fluffy white bread, I was the only kid in school with “multigrain” bread in a sea of unblemished, alabaster Wonderbread-type sandwiches. My friends would wrinkle their nose at the sandwich my mum, also a nutritionist, had lovingly packed for me. “Alex, there are ants in your bread,” they would say. “No,” I replied somewhat self-consciously, “those are flax seeds.”
Now that we are well into the new millennium, people know about flax seeds. You can even find them in commercial breads (which unfortunately, still doesn’t mean most commercial breads are good for you).
Cozying up to the romance of Valentine’s Day, February is, appropriately, Heart Month. It seems like every major chronic illness now has a month. We all hear about prostate cancer in November (or should I say Movember?) and breast cancer in October, pink ribbons aflutter. The Heart and Stroke Foundation nabbed February as “Heart Month’, and hearts heart flax seeds.
Shall I tell you more about this super seed?
Most people know of flax seeds as a good source of fibre and a source of plant-based omega 3’s. That is true although if you want to get your omega 3’s from flax, you are better off consuming the oil instead of the whole seeds. Whole seeds are difficult for the human digestive system to break down and therefore in order to obtain the full benefits of flax, they are best consumed freshly ground. I buy my seeds whole, grind them in small batches in a coffee grinder, and store them in the freezer to preserve freshness.
Here is a summary of some impressive things that flax can do, and below that you will find a heart healthy fibre-rich cookie recipe to help you incorporate more of this wonderful seed into your diet.
-Heart Health: Particularly in its whole form (ground up) flax seeds reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, improve circulation by improving blood viscosity, and at higher doses reduce inflammatory markers in the body (such as C-reactive protein) . Recently, it was shown that two tablespoons of ground flax seeds a day significantly reduced blood pressure in hypertensive participants. The effect of flax was greater than any other dietary intervention so far in its impact on blood pressure .
-Breast Cancer Survival: Plant compounds, called lignans, found in particularly high amounts in flax seeds have been linked to better survival rates in women with breast cancer. It is thought that flax lignans act like weak estrogens and block the receptors from stronger estrogens encouraging the growth of cancerous cells [3,4,5].
-Diabetes: 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed per day lowered levels of fasting blood sugar and glycosylated hemoglobin (a measure of longer-term blood sugar regulation ability). An improvement in blood lipid parameters were also noted, with a reduction in total cholesterol, particularly LDL (the “bad’ cholesterol) and triglycerides .
-Fertility & PMS: Daily consumption of flaxseed reduced the likelihood of anovulatory cycles (menstrual cycles where ovulation doesn’t occur) and decreased symptoms of breast tenderness .
-Better Poops: For those prone to constipation, one to two tablespoons of ground flax seed a day helps lubricate the bowels and add bulk to stool, thus creating an easier, fuller poop. ‘Nuff said.
So, how do we sneak more of these little seeds into our diet?
Flax seeds are very mild tasting with a pleasant, nutty flavour. In terms of taste, they are easy to disguise, so they can be thrown into smoothies, cereals, soups, salads, burgers, and baked goods. Many people will just put the ground flax seeds directly into water, give it a stir, and gulp it down.
However, if you want a more novel way to incorporate a good dose of flax seed into your diet, try these cookies!
No Bake Flax Cinnamon Raisin Cookies
1 cup ground flax seed
½ cup almond meal
½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 Tbsp cinnamon
¼ cup raisins
¼ tsp sea salt
½ cup coconut oil
2 Tbsp raw honey
-Combine all dry ingredients (flax, almond meal, coconut, cinnamon, raisins, and salt) in a large bowl and stir well. Add wet ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Should form a sticky, thick dough.
-With clean hands, scoop out golf ball-sized amounts of dough, roll into a ball, and flatten slightly into a pudgy cookie shape. Place on parchment lined cookie tray.
-Freeze or refrigerate for about 30 minutes, then they are ready to serve! Cookies can be stored in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container for about a week. Makes about 16 small cookies. Each cookie contains approximately 1 Tbsp of heart healthy ground flax seed.
Please note that if you are using flax seeds for the first time, start slow! Flax seeds promote bowel movements and some people may be more sensitive to this effect than others. Start with 1 tsp at a time, and work your way up!