QUESTION: "We hear so much about the nutritional value of flaxseeds. Should I go out of my way to try to add them to my diet?"
ANSWER: Shiny little brown flaxseeds - they're not much bigger than sesame seeds - are being touted as nature's own nutritional supplements.
They're rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that converts into omega-3 fatty acids. Some studies suggest that increasing our intakes of other omega-3 fatty acids may have health benefits, including reducing the risk of coronary artery disease.
The evidence is far from conclusive, but food companies are using flaxseeds' omega-3 healthpower potential to sell flax-fortified cereals, breads, and other products. Whole and ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil capsules are also widely available.
It's far too early to know if flaxseeds can live up to the hype. However, we do know that whole flaxseeds are also a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, folate, and other vitamins and minerals.
So, what's the right role for flaxseeds in your daily routine? If you treat them like any other whole food, they can be a healthful addition to your diet.
You can add whole flaxseeds to hot or cold breakfast cereals, for example. Still, most people prefer to grind the flaxseeds before adding them to other foods. Ground flaxseeds are easier to digest and for the body to absorb.
Grind flaxseeds using a coffee mill or mini food processor. If you buy milled flaxseeds, keep them in the refrigerator or freezer. That will slow the oxidation of the oil in the seeds and keep them fresh longer.
There are a number of ways to include ground flaxseeds in your diet. For example:
- Stir them into soy yogurt, hummus, soup, and cooked cereals. Like wheat germ, which is similar in texture, ground flaxseeds add a nutty flavor.
- Mix them into crumbly foods. Add a few teaspoons of ground flaxseeds to the oatmeal topping on apple crisp, or sprinkle some into granola.
- Bake them into breads, muffins, cookies, pancakes, and waffles.
- One Tablespoon of ground flaxseeds mixed briskly with three Tablespoons of water can substitute for one whole egg in muffins, cookies, pancakes, and quick breads.
- Use one cup of ground flaxseeds in place of 1⁄3 cup of oil or shortening.
But don't give flaxseed all of your attention. Other seeds and nuts deserve a place in your pantry (or refrigerator), too. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, and others add variety, flavor, and nutrients to a varied diet.
The best nutritional supplement doesn't come in a bottle or a seed. It comes from the collective nutritional power of nutrients packaged naturally in a range of whole, minimally processed fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.