~ Health Benefits of Flaxseed

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, 08-23-06

Aug. 22--Flaxseed is a trendy ingredient used to help prevent cardiovascular disease.

It's a topic that is close to the heart of graduate dietitian Bethany A. Dario. Last spring the Boston University alumna assisted in a food presentation for the Perrysburg Schools Wellness Committee as part of her nutrition therapy dietetic internship at the Cleveland Clinic.

She thinks the benefits of flax are evident, yet the public knows little about flaxseed, which is composed of 42 percent fat. The majority of the fat in flaxseed is polyunsaturated, which helps protect against sudden death from heart attack. Most of this is in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, which the human body cannot create and which is a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s can help protect against stroke and help people lower their triglycerides, too.

"I began by recommending purchasing ground or milled flax, because the hull of the whole seed is very difficult to digest," Ms. Dario says. Ground or milled flax may be bought, or whole seeds may be ground in a coffee grinder.

Ms. Dario recommends adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of flax to ready-to-eat products such as oatmeal, salad, yogurt, cereal and milk, pancakes, French toast, waffles, or trail mix. Ground or milled flax also may be used to coat fish or chicken, or mixed into a gravy or stuffing.

Ms. Dario told of how a chef incorporated ground flaxseed into a whole-wheat bread recipe. After the bread was baked, the chef sliced it and coated it with an egg white, milk, nutmeg, and cinnamon mixture. He then prepared French toast with an organic maple syrup. Thus a generally high-fat, high-cholesterol food was transformed into a heart-healthy, reduced-calorie dish.

"Flaxseed has its own flavor and nutty taste," she said in a phone interview.

Note that too much flax produces too much fiber. Though flax is considered a digestive aid, for some people it has a laxative effect, according to the Food Lover's Companion.

Despite the healthy nature of flaxseed, both ground or milled, few cookbook recipes use it. Those that do are often in the "healthy cooking" category.

Look Good Feel Great Cookbook by Jenny Jones (Wiley, $24.95) includes two recipes that use flaxseed: Banana Walnut Bread made with very ripe bananas includes 1/2 cup ground flaxseed meal, and Cholesterol Buster Cookies, which are oatmeal-prune cookies, have oat bran, oats, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal. Ms. Jones notes that once flax is ground, it is very susceptible to turning rancid. She keeps it in the freezer.

Harold McGee, a world-renowned authority on the chemistry of foods and cooking, notes in On Food and Cooking (Scribner, $40) that flaxseed is about 30 percent fiber, a quarter of which is a gum. Due to the gum, ground flaxseed forms a thick gel when mixed with water, which is an emusifier and foam stabilizer, and can improve the volume of baked goods.

Natural foods chef and longtime vegetarian David Stowe of Ypsilanti, Mich., described how ground flaxseed may be used as an egg substitute. "You grind the flaxseed into meal and then whisk 1 tablespoon flax to 2 to 3 tablespoons water," he says. "It coagulates. It's a binder like egg. So vegans use it as a substitute for egg."

He said one recipe for French toast combined 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed-water mixture with applesauce and soy milk to use in place of the traditional egg-milk mixture.

Flax oil is also used by some cooks in place of other oils in salad dressing as a way to get omega-3s into their daily diet.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.

E-mail her at food@theblade.com

Read more Kathie Smith columns at www.toledoblade.com/smith

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