You´ve probably heard about flax seeds and their magical ability to “heal the gut,” as many have been advocating lately. The truth is flax seeds really are very beneficial for your health and we´re going to explain that more in depth below but nothing´s as easy as it sounds, not even flax seeds. They have so much to offer but you need to take in some knowledge to be able to embrace all of their qualities. So what are they?
Omega-3s matter the most
Dr. Michael Greger, MD, an American physician and an expert on public health, promotes the greatest benefits of flax seeds in his video lecture on YouTube. He focuses on several studies conducted over decades which resulted in a conclusion that vegans, to the contrary of popular belief, have the same and in some cases higher risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases and cancer than vegetarians or meat-eaters. The shocking findings struck Dr. Greger so much, he started researching potential causes of this phenomenon and ended up realizing that the whole issue is about an insufficient intake of omega-3s. You may think you´ll taking in enough – you´re only using olive oil, you´re eating fatty fish, nuts and seeds but that´s not enough at all. The reason behind this is, all of the food that contains omega-3s also contains omega-6s - and if you eat too many omega-6s, specifically in a larger ratio to omega-3s than 4:1, you have no protection from cardiovascular diseases because the beneficial acids EPA and DHA created to protect our arteries cannot reach their destination and do their job. Many times though we get the message that omega-3s AND omega-6s are great for our health, and so we consume artificial supplements or eat too much of e.g. sunflower oil that is contained in so many “healthy” products you wouldn´t think it might be bad for you in the first place. Just to be clear, omega-6s aren´t bad in general but the ratio to omega-3s we´re eating gets too small and so we cause ourselves inflammation, which is basically a start of any disease and very common allergies. That´s why it is time for flax seeds – the most concentrated source of omega-3s on the planet. Fatty fish like salmon are great for sure but it´s no competition for flax seeds. Dr. Greger recommends eating approximately a handful of flax seeds daily and believes that doing so will lead you to a healthy and long life.
Menopause, allergies, and overall inflammation
Flax seeds, besides being the world´s best source of omega-3s, are also full of antioxidants, specifically lignans, which are the basic reason why flax seeds are so powerful in preventing diseases like cancer or even allergies. Although our immune system usually does a great work recognizing organisms that are a threat to us like viruses and bacteria from our own cells and beneficial substances, if we feed it allergens, processed foods, and expose it to prolonged stress periods, it may get impaired by all the inflammation we bring into our bodies. Flax seeds with its omega-3s and lignans together create a mixture of substances so strong, it is ranked 9th best food to eat every day overall! Furthermore, lignans “act like estrogen” in human bodies which is why they´re very beneficial for menopausal women who suffer from various symptoms including fatigue, sweats and hot flashes, hair loss, or mood swings which are all brought on by the gradual decrease of natural estrogen, and flax seeds can be just the right thing to undo the damage that comes with aging. Since they are anti-inflammatory, they are believed to potentially help allergic people but there have also been evidence on allergies to flax seeds when there are other nuts- and seeds-related allergies in an individual, in which case they should rather be avoided as prevention.
How to get the most from them?
First of all, don´t get all excited and unreasonably consume whole packages of flax seeds in one sitting. The most important thing to remember when using flax seeds in food preparation is to buy the whole ones to prevent oxidation which occurs in pre-crushed flax seeds and thus destroys all the value they would otherwise have. However, if you eat them as they are, the only benefit they will have is for your digestive tract if you´re one of those who suffer from constipation quite often. To make all the nutrients and antioxidants release into your blood stream though, you have to crush them right before you eat them. Then, it´s all about your creativity – you can sprinkle them on your salad, put them in a soup or cereals with milk, into yoghurt or even bake with them. Don´t worry, flax seeds will maintain their nutrients even if you bake them at 150°C for a few hours. Although some people claim that EPA and DHA from plant-based sources cannot be properly absorbed into your body and thus it´s better to eat fatty fish 3 times a week, the evidence is not strong enough and suggests it only applies to some people, for no apparent reason. So if you´re afraid you might be one of them get some pure omega-3 supplement and take one every other day, just to be sure.
by Katarína Vicová
Free Images (2016). [picture]. Flax seeds.
Greger, M. (2003). [YouTube video]. 40 year vegan dies of a heart attack! Why? The omega-3 and B12 myth with Dr. Michael Greger. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7KeRwdIH04&index=25&list=LL9UT0eh9b-ycoNPWTeTTF8A
WHFoods (2016). Flax seeds. Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=81