According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 80 million Americans are affected by one or more types of cardiovascular disease. Flaxseed is one of the richest sources of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a polyunsaturated fat that offers unique heart health benefits.
Flax is one of the best plant sources of lignans, natural antioxidants that may reduce the activity of cell-damaging free radicals, slow the aging process, and increase overall wellness. Flaxseeds provide up to 700 times more lignans than whole grains or legumes.
Flax is an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, providing three grams of fiber per tablespoon.
Milled and whole flax provide all the dietary fiber of whole grains. One tablespoon of milled flax contains as much dietary fiber as one slice of whole wheat bread, one-half cup cooked brown rice, one-quarter cup cooked oat bran, and one-third cup cooked, chopped broccoli.
Fiber in flax is good for the heart, colon, and digestive health, and can ease the effects of type 2 diabetes.
While flax is rich in protein, research suggests its health benefits probably have more to do with its fatty acid and fiber profile.
|Nutrient Profile of Flaxseed|
|Food Energy||450 Kilocalories (Calories)|
|Total Dietary Fiber||28.0 grams|
*Analyzed by the American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS ) Official Method Am
2-93, which is based on the Federation of Oils, Seeds and Fats Associations Ltd. (FOSFA) Official Method. The American Organization of Analytical Chemists (AOAC International) Method 996.06 will produce a slightly lower fat content.
Part of the reason fats and oils have earned such a bad reputation in recent years is because people eat too much fat, particularly too much saturated fat. (Saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease.)
Although about 41 per cent of flax is oil, very little of that is saturated. More than
70 percent of fat in flax is of the healthy polyunsaturated type. In fact, a unique feature of flax is the high ratio of alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) to linoleic (omega-6 fatty acids).
Nutritionists consider these two polyunsaturated fatty acids as essential because the body cannot manufacture them from other substances. (Normally, the body converts carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into fatty acids as needed.) That means, they must be eaten as part of the diet.
While other plant seeds — corn, sunflower, peanuts — contain omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, flax is the only one that contains so much of the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Understanding how these two types of polyunsaturated fat differ can help the comsumer underscore why flax has so many unique health benefits.
|Fatty Acid Composition of Flax Oil|
|Percent of total fatty acids|
|Saturated fatty acids||9%|
|Polyunsaturated fatty acids|
|Omega-3 fatty acids||57%|
|Omega-6 fatty acids||16%|
Omega-3 fatty acids - More than half the fat in flaxseeds is alpha-linolenic fatty acid (ALA), the essential omega-3 fatty acid. Scientific studies reporting health benefits for omega-3 fatty acids show that these fatty acids are required for proper infant growth and development. Cholesterol can be reduced by adding flax to the diet. New research also suggests that ALA offers protective effects against both coronary heart disease and stroke. Omega-3s also have been shown to protect against hypertension, and inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Long-term studies of flax effects on breast cancer now are underway.
Omega-6 fatty acids — An essential fatty acid, linoleic is the chief polyunsaturated fat in the North American diet. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet come from vegetable oils.
Ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s — Studies of hunter-gatherer populations show their diets contained roughly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Currently, researchers and nutrition experts recommend people replace some omega-6 fatty acids in their diet with omega-3 fatty acids like those found in flax.
It is safe to use whole flaxseeds or flaxseed meal in batters, doughs and main dishes that are to be cooked. Although composed of so much oil, both whole flaxseeds and flaxseed meal are stable at temperatures used to bake batters and doughs, such as muffins or breads, according to several studies. You can add flaxseeds, in whole form, and as flax meal, to casseroles, such as pasta dishes and meat loaves, or use it in breadings on meats to be baked.
Flaxseed can replace all of the oil or shortening called for in a recipe because of its high oil content. If a recipe calls for 1/3 c of oil, use 1 c of milled flaxseed to replace the oil — a 3:1 substitution ratio. When flaxseed is used instead of oil, baked goods tend to brown more rapidly.
Vegetarians substitute a flaxseed mixture for eggs in selected recipes like pancakes, muffins, and cookies. These baked goods are slightly gummier and chewier than normal, and the volume is decreased. When using the substitution formula, test a recipe first to determine if it meets your expectations.
The formula is:15 mL (1 tbsp) milled flax, plus 45 mL (3 tbsp water) = 1 egg.
Mix milled flaxseed and water in a small bowl and let sit for 1 to 2 minutes. Add to recipe as you would an egg.
Omega-3 eggs are eggs fortified with flax goodness through flax fed to laying hens. These eggs contain the essential omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic (ALA), plus two other omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA).
Omega-3-enriched eggs provide about 12 times more omega-3 fatty acids than regular eggs, based on an average omega-3-content of 0.5 grams in omega-3 enriched eggs versus 0.04 grams in regular eggs¹.
What is especially important for vegetarian diets, is the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) + docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) content of these eggs. When hens are fed flaxseed, the richest plant source of alpha-linolenic fatty acid (ALA) in the North American diet, they break down some of the ALA into the two desirable fatty acids, making their eggs excellent sources of both EPA and DHA. Morris1, in a paper written for egg producers, states:
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) published recommended intakes of essential fatty acids in September 2002, acknowledging the essential nature of ALA in the human diet and the contribution of all omega-3 fatty acids to human health. The IOM is a nonprofit organization that operates under the umbrella of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. It has set recommended intakes for calcium, iron, and B vitamins, along with other vitamins and minerals and, in this recent report, for macronutrients like protein, carbohydrate, and fat. The IOM's recommended intakes were developed in cooperation with Health Canada and will replace the Canadian Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNIs).
In its 2002 report, the IOM recommended certain intakes (called Adequate Intakes) of ALA for infants, children and adolescents, and adults, the first time a
North American agency has made a recommendation for this essential omega-3 fatty acid.
Note that an Adequate Intake was set only for ALA. Adequate Intakes were not set for EPA and DHA. The reason for this is that, strictly speaking, ALA is the only true "essential" omega-3 fatty acid in our diet. Remember, an essential nutrient (like ALA) is one that must be obtained from foods because our bodies cannot make it. Because EPA and DHA can be made from ALA, they are not considered "essential" nutrients in the strictest sense. (When EPA and DHA are called "essential fatty acids" in the medical literature, the authors usually mean that EPA and DHA are "important" or "vital.") Accordingly, the IOM set recommended intakes for ALA and indicated that other omega-3 fatty acids in our diet (like EPA and DHA) can contribute to the recommended ALA intake.
One omega-3-enriched egg provides on average about 0.34 grams of ALA and 0.13 grams of EPA + DHA. By itself, an omega-3-enriched egg provides a significant portion of the Adequate Intakes of ALA for all age groups. For young children under the age of 3 years, for example, one omega-3- enriched egg provides half (49%) of the Adequate Intake. For boys and men, one omega-3- enriched egg provides roughly one-quarter (21-28%) of the recommended Adequate Intake. For girls and women, an omega-3- enriched egg provides approximately one-third (31-34%) of their Adequate Intake of ALA.
If eaten on a regular basis, an omega-3-enriched egg makes a substantial contribution to omega-3 fatty acid intakes. Because of their increased omega-3 fatty acid content, omega-3 enriched eggs contain more polyunsaturated fatty acids than regular eggs. While the omega-3 content may vary substantially between different brands, the caloric value and protein and fat content of omega-3-enriched eggs are similar to that of regular eggs. Some omega-3-enriched eggs contain slightly less cholesterol than regular eggs.
1. Flax Council of Canada. 2003. The novel egg: Opportunities for flax in omega-3 egg production. Winnipeg: Flax Council of Canada.