What is Flax?
Flax is a blue-flowered plant grown in the cool, northern climate of the western Canadian prairies and northern United States. The seed from flax can be consumed in whole seed, milled (ground), or oil form. It is a powerhouse of disease-fighting compounds, such as the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), fibre, lignans (which are powerful antioxidants) and high quality protein. Flaxseed has been found to help protect against heart disease, inflammatory disorders and certain cancers. The mild nutty flavour of flaxseed adds flavor, nutrition, and health benefits to a variety of foods.
Frequently Asked Questions About Flax
Q. I've heard that I need to grind whole flaxseed. Why is that?
A: While whole and ground flaxseed have the same nutritional content your body gets more benefit from ground flaxseed. That's because the goodness in flaxseed is wrapped up in a hard, shiny seed coat that's hard to crack, even with careful chewing. Grinding or roasting flaxseed breaks this seed coat making all the nutrients easier to digest. Flaxseeds are easy to grind at home using a coffee grinder, food processor or blender. You also can buy ground or "milled" flaxseed in most stores where whole flaxseed is sold.
Q. Where can I find flaxseed?
A: Flaxseed can be found in whole, milled, or oil forms at your local grocery store or health food store. Whole and milled flaxseed is usually found with the packaged grains or bulk food section, while oil is in the refrigerated section. It is found in numerous ready-to-eat products including snack bars, trail mixes, muffins, pancakes, cereals, waffles, breads, pastas, pizza crusts and many more.
Q. My store carries both brown and golden flaxseed. Is one better than the other?
A: Golden and brown flaxseed both contain the same nutritional benefits in terms of omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, protein and dietary fibre. It's a matter of choice, but be assured that you can substitute golden for brown and vice versa without sacrificing any of the natural goodness in flaxseed.
Q. Is there a difference between flaxseed and flaxseed oil?
A: Yes. Flaxseed oil is the purified fat that results from the cold-pressing of flaxseeds. Because it is the fat portion of the seed, it contains high levels of omega-3 ALA (55-58 percent on a per weight basis in comparison to 18-23 percent from whole or milled seed). Flaxseed oil doesn't have the fibre and protein found in the rest of the seed. Some flaxseed oil manufacturers do “add” back in the lignans – check the label for these products. If the label doesn’t identify lignans, they are not present.
Q. What is flaxseed oil and what types are available?
A: Flaxseed oil results from pressing the oil from the seed. There are two types of flaxseed oil available — conventional and organic. These types of flaxseed oil differ in the way the seed is grown, but the nutritional content is the same.
Q. How long does flaxseed keep?
A: If you buy whole flaxseed, don't be afraid to keep a jar of it handy on your kitchen counter. Whole flaxseed is naturally wrapped in a perfect package — a hard seed coat that preserves its goodness for up to a year or longer. If you grind flaxseed yourself (for example in a coffee grinder), it is best stored refrigerated in an opaque container and will keep for at least 90 days. Because ground flaxseed flows readily even when frozen, many users choose to store ground flaxseed in the freezer for even longer shelf life.
Also good quality milled flaxseed may be purchased, but attention should be paid to the manufacturers recommendation as to storage conditions. Overall the storage of milled flax is similar to other whole grain flour or raw nuts. Roasted flaxseed should also be refrigerated or frozen. Flaxseed oil should be refrigerated and usually has an expiration date about four months after pressing.
Q. How much flaxseed should I eat each day?
A: To get the full health benefits of flaxseed, we recommend eating 2 tablespoons (about 16 g) of ground flaxseed per day. If you are concerned about, or have been diagnosed with, high blood cholesterol levels, Health Canada recommends eating 5 tablespoons (40 g) of ground whole flaxseed over three eating occasions in the day.
When using ground flaxseed, because of its high fibre content, increase the amount you eat slowly, starting with about one-half to one tablespoon per day and working up to the higher levels.
Q. Is flaxseed safe for children and toddlers?
A: Flaxseed is a natural plant source of vital nutrients and is considered safe for healthy people of all age groups. We recommend no more than one-quarter tablespoon daily for young children.
Q. What is the nutrient profile of ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil?
A: On average, Canadian flaxseed contains 41% fat (23% as ALA), 20% protein, and 28% total dietary fibre. A detailed nutrient breakdown of flaxseed and its oil is found in the below table.