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Flax oil and flax seeds are being rediscovered as true health foods. They definitely merit being included on any top-ten list of foods that are good for you. Flax is not a new food. It is actually one of the older and, perhaps, one of the original "health foods," treasured because of its healing properties throughout the Roman empire. Flax was one of the original "medicines" used by Hippocrates. Flax could be dubbed the "forgotten oil." It has fallen out of favor because oil manufacturers have found nutritious oils to be less profitable. The very nutrients that give flax its nutritional benefits - essential fatty acids - also give it a short shelf life, making it more expensive to produce, transport, and store. Yet, those who are nutritionally in the know continue to rank flax high on the list of "must have" foods. Because of the flurry of scientific studies validating the health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, flax oil has graduated from the refrigerator of "health food nuts" to a status of scientific respectability.
I seldom leave home in the morning without having my daily tablespoon of flax oil or 2 tablespoons of flaxseed meal. Besides being the best source of omega 3's, flax oil is a good source of omega 6, or linoleic acid (LA). Sunflower, safflower, and sesame oil are greater sources of omega 6 fatty acids but they don't contain any omega-3 fatty acids. Flax oil is 45 to 60 percent the omega-3 fatty acid alphalinolenic acid (ALA).
In addition to nutritious fats, flax seeds contain other nutrients which make eating the whole seed superior to consuming just the extracted oil:
Flax seeds, because they contain some protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and lignins, are more nutritious than their oil. Yet, for practical purposes, most consumers prefer simply using the oil for its omega-3 fatty acids and not having to bother with grinding the seeds. But nutritionally speaking, it's worth the trouble to grind fresh flax seeds (say, in a coffee grinder) and sprinkle them as a seasoning on salads or cereals, or mix them into muffins. When buying seeds, be sure they are whole, not split; splitting exposes the inner seed to light and heat and decreases the nutritional value. Or, buy pre-ground flax seeds, available as flaxseed meal. One ounce of flaxseed meal (approximately 4 tbsp.) will yield about 6 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber.
Flax oil, flax seeds, and the omega-3 fatty acids they contain are good for your health. Here are some of the ways flax helps your body.
1. Flax promotes cardiovascular health. The ultra-high levels of omega-3 fatty acids lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Fish oils and algae are also good sources of essential fatty acids.
2. Flax promotes colon health. It has anti-cancer properties and, as a natural lubricant and a rich fiber source, it lowers the risk of constipation.
3. Flax supplements can boost immunity. One study showed that school children supplemented with less than a teaspoon of flax oil a day had fewer and less severe respiratory infections than children not supplemented with flax oil.
4. Flax provides fats that are precursors for brain building. This is especially important at the stage of life when a child's brain grows the fastest, in utero and during infancy. A prudent mom should consider supplementing her diet with a daily tablespoon of flax oil during her pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
5. Flax promotes healthy skin. I have used flax oil as a dietary supplement in my patients who seem to have dry skin or eczema, or whose skin is particularly sun-sensitive.
6. Flax may lessen the severity of diabetes by stabilizing blood-sugar levels.
7. Flax fat can be slimming. Fats high in essential fatty acids, such as flax, increase the body's metabolic rate, helping to burn the excess, unhealthy fats in the body. Eating the right kind of fat gives you a better fighting chance of your body storing the right amount of fats. This is called thermogenesis , a process in which specialized fat cells throughout the body (called brown fat) click into high gear and burn more fat when activated by essential fatty acids, especially gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). I have personally noticed that I crave less fat overall when I get enough of the healthy fats. A daily supplement of omega 3 fatty acids may be an important part of weight control programs.
If flax oil not does appeal to your children, try giving them Go Fish omega-3 soft gels. They have an orange flavor that kids love.