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Flax

Flaxseed, traditionally known as linseed, is a tiny seed packed wit a variety of components that can play an important role in your diet.

Flax is a great source of soluble fiber. It can help lower cholesterol levels and consequently lower heart disease risk. Studies at the University of Toronto showed that 25 to 50 g of flax per day helped lower blood cholesterol significantly. The insoluble fiber in flax is also helpful in preventing constipation.

Flax is a rich source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is an essential fatty acid, also considered a "heart healthy" fat. Because your body cannot manufacture this fatty acid, you must consume it as foods. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the thickness of blood so that heart doesn't have to work as hard to push the blood through the blood vessels. They also lessen the stickiness of blood platelets, reducing their tendency to clump together to form clots.

Flax may protect against some cancers. Flax contains lignans, which convert in the body to compounds that are similar to the body's own estrogen but have much weaker activity. They can occupy estrogen receptors in cells and block the effects of more powerful estrogens. That is why numerous studies are currently looking at the role flax may play in lowering the risk of hormone-linked cancers such as of the breast or colon. Animal studies have already shown that flax can reduce tumor size and can even influence the incidence of tumor development. Human studies are limited, but one study showed that the tumor growth in breast-cancer patients was reduced when hey were given daily muffins containing 25 g of ground flax. Patients on tamoxifen should not consume large amounts of flax.

Flax contains no gluten, is very inexpensive, and has a pleasant nutty flavor. There is no recommended daily amount, but many studies use one to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily.

You can eat whole flaxseeds but they tend to come out the way they went in. Ground seeds are preferable for nutrient absorption. You can grind your own in a blender or food processor, or you can buy it already ground. Once ground, store what you don't use in an airtight, opaque container in the fridge or freezer.

Flaxseed oil provides omega-3 fatty acids but not the fiber and the lignans of the seeds. Flax oil should be kept in the fridge and has limited shelf life; check best-before date. it breaks down with heat so is not a good choice for cooking.

To use flaxseed:

Add it to cereal, muffin batters, breads, pancake mixes, and cookie mixes;

Stir ground flaxseed into yogurt or smoothies, juice or applesauce

Sprinkle on salads for a nutty flavor

Add to casseroles, meatballs, or meat loaf

Make a pesto sauce with fresh basil, garlic, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, and grated Parmesan cheese

Use flaxseed oil in salad dressings or drizzle over steamed vegetables just before serving.

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