Add More Flax to the Diet
~ June 1999 No.76 ~
Flax is a plant that has been cultivated for centuries and has a variety of food and non-food uses. Canada and Australia are major producers of flax, but it can be grown in a wide variety of countries. Recent advances in plant breeding has expanded the uses of flax even more and, in the future, vegetable oil from flax will be more common. Flax oil is usually marketed using the name linola. Flax seeds are not usually consumed in large quantities, but there are several health reasons why flax should be a part of the diet.
One of the unique characteristics of flax is the oil in the seed. Flaxseed is over 40% oil. Like other vegetable oils, flax oil is a mixture of fatty acids, but it is the highest single source of a fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. ALA is a member of the omega-3 fatty acid family. Omega-3 fatty acids have become more visible in the grocery store as various producers are selling eggs that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. It's no trade secret that the easiest way to increase the omega-3 fatty acids in eggs is to feed the hens flaxseed. Consumers can have a choice: eat omega-3 enriched eggs or go to the source and add flax to the diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are related because of their chemical structure and because, in the body, short chain omega-3 fatty acids are metabolised to longer, more unsaturated, and more complex compounds that have important immune functions.
Flax has gained attention because of human experiments that have shown that adding ALA to the diet reduces serum total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL). The effect has be demonstrated in healthy men and women. Eating flaxseed muffins that supplied 50 g flaxseed /day was enough to reduce total cholesterol by 6% and LDL by 9%. The effect appears to be even greater if the subjects had started with high cholesterol levels. Flaxseeds are also a good source of dietary fiber and so researchers carrying out the flax trials were not able to say if it was an effect due to ALA or due to fiber. If it is indeed the ALA that is the active ingredient, flaxseed oil may be an important part of a diet to combat coronary heart disease.
|100 grams of flaxseed provide 450 kcals or 1,890 joules of food energy|