Nancy's Nutrition Corner

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," Hippocrates.

Fabulous Flax

This month's featured food is the cunningly unassuming flax seed. You've heard about the importance of omega 3 fatty acids, and we know about the need for dietary fiber. Flax seeds are an excellent source of both, providing protection against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, eczema, arthritis and more.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Flaxseeds are rich in alpha linolenic acid. The body converts this acid into two well known and important omega 3 fats, EPA and DHA. These fats are the precursors to the beneficial 'series 1 and 3' prostaglandins - anti-inflammatory molecules that play a role in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions. In contrast, the omega 6 fats produce the 'series 2' prostaglandins, which can promote and/or exacerbate these conditions.

We need both omega 6 and omega 3 fats to be healthy, however, omega 6 fats promote inflammation when not balanced by the appropriate amounts of omega 3 fats in the diet. Many nutrition experts believe the ideal ratio is 2:1. Unfortunately, the average American's diet often contains 10 times as much omega 6 as omega 3 fats. Omega 6 fats are found in high amounts in non-grassfed animal fats, margarine, and many vegetable oils.

Omega 3 fatty acids also have an impact on cell membrane structure: diets high in omega 3 fats create cell membranes with a high degree of fluidity, whereas diets high in saturated or hydrogenated fats create cell membranes that are hard and lack fluidity. Flexible cell membranes are critical for allowing in nutrients, responding to insulin, absorbing glucose, and eliminating wastes. Cells with flexible cell membranes also have enhanced cell to cell signaling which can have an effect on mood and mental function.

In general, a person should consume about 4 grams of omega 3 fatty acids each day. Adding flaxseeds to one's diet easily increases one's omega 3 intake. Two tablespoons of flaxseeds provides 3.51 grams of omega 3 fatty acids!

Ground flax seed is also a very good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is known to help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber helps maintain bowel regularity and decreases the transit time of fecal matter through the intestines, thereby reducing the exposure of colon cells to cancer causing chemicals.

Research indicates that low intake of dietary fiber is associated with the development of many health problems including constipation, cancer, and elevated cholesterol levels. Sadly, the average American intake of fiber is only 12 grams a day as compared to the recommended 30-35 grams! Adding flax seed to one's diet can help-two tablespoons of flaxseeds provides 5.41 grams of fiber. You can order some from our catalog.

Important storage tip: Flax seeds should be kept in an airtight container in the fridge to avoid oxidation of their oils.

 Featured Product
Organic Flax Seeds

Nancy Silva, ND is a licensed naturopath with a penchant for good food. Her monthly column discusses the nutritional aspects of some of the foods available through LocalHarvest. You can contact Nancy from her listing on our website.

Back to the May 2007 Newsletter