Culinary Sleuth

by Lynn Kerrigan


The Truth About Flaxseed Oil
—Fat That's Good for You


"What department is there to be found in active life in which linseed is not employed?
      — Pliny (A.D. 23-79).


The Historical and Folk Use of Flaxseed

People have used flaxseed since ancient times and evidence of its health and nutritional benefits is plentiful and growing. The first recorded uses of flax come from Southern Mesopotamia where it has been growing for at least 7000 years.

In folklore, seeds were crushed and blended with mustard to make a poultice for inflamed skin. It was also used to regulate the bowels and as an antidote for poisoning.


A Positive Fat

Because dietary fat has gotten a lot of bad press lately, many people try to avoid eating too much. But, some nutritionists feel we not getting nearly enough of the essential fats our bodies need.

Flaxseed oil is one of nature's richest sources of one of those essential fats— Omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Because our bodies are unable to produce Omega-3s, we must get them through our diet. Essential fatty acids protect us against the effects of high blood pressure, sticky platelets, inflammation, water retention and lowered immune function. Numerous studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids help lower cholesterol and prevent clotted arteries that may result in strokes, heart attacks and thromboses.

Nutritionists know that Omega-3 fatty acids aid the proper development of the brain and vision in babies. Scientists also think that they have a beneficial role in other disease prevention, including hypertension, cancer, and inflammatory and immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Culinary Sleuth In addition to Omega-3, flaxseed oil provides Omega-6 to support the glandular system and Omega-9 to aid the respiratory system. Direct evidence for additional benefits from flaxseed oil is now coming from animal experiments and is catching the interest of the National Cancer Institute.


Cooking with Flaxseed

Flaxseed adds a pleasant, nutty taste to recipes. The attractive, reddish-brown seeds also enhance the texture and nutrition of breads and other baked goods.

Whole flaxseed: Use whole flaxseed in bread dough, pancake, muffin or cookie mixes. When sprinkled on top of any of these before baking, they add crunch, taste and eye appeal.

Ground flaxseed: You may add ground flaxseed to just about anything including soups, stews, baked good, cereals and drinks. To use, grind a desired amount of flaxseed to a free-flowing granular consistency in a coffee grinder or food processor.

Use flaxseed oil to replace other oils and butter. Flaxseed can stand in for all of the oil or shortening called for in a recipe because of its high oil content. Use a 3 to 1 substitution ratio. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/3 cup of oil, use 1 cup of milled flaxseed to replace the oil. Note: When flaxseed is used instead of oil, baked goods tend to brown more rapidly.

Many people equate the taste of flaxseed oil to melted butter— and it can be used in the same way. Brush it onto corn on the cob, spread it on bread with a pastry brush, drizzle it over salads and steamed vegetables and use it to make salad dressings and marinades.


Medicinal Uses of Flaxseed Oil

Anti-inflammatory: Flaxseed oil helps the body's cells produce natural compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Many people with arthritis and joint inflammation may find relief by adding two to three teaspoons of flaxseed oil to their daily diet.

High cholesterol and clogged arteries: Flaxseed is also rich in soluble fiber, which may help reduce total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in people with both high and normal blood cholesterol levels.

Medical information source: International Food Information Council.


Rules for Using Flaxseed Oil

For maximum health and protection against disease, Dr. Johanna Budwig, a German biochemist and leading European authority on fats and nutrition, suggests taking flaxseed oil in its purest form. She also recommends taking it with a high quality protein like yogurt, skim milk, soy milk, cottage cheese and rice milk, which enhances absorption. This is important to remember. Taking flaxseed oil alone may be of little benefit to your health. Combine it with good, raw complete protein. This isn't a problem if consuming the whole flaxseed, which contain that protein.

Do not exceed one tablespoon of flaxseed oil daily. Excessive amounts may inhibit normal blood clotting ability.

For best results use flaxseed and flaxseed oil as a topping over already prepared dishes. These fragile oils decompose at high temperatures. Sprinkle on already-prepared dishes or add to soup and other recipes after cooking.

Protect flaxseed from rancidity (oxidation). Store in the refrigerator or similar cool, dark place.

Purchase small quantities and consume within a few weeks.

To prevent oxidation in the body, take flaxseed oil with Vitamins C and E as part of your daily supplement program.


Flaxseed Oil Facts

Plant Name: Linum usitatissimum)
Other Names: Linseed oil.
Description: A perennial herb growing to 3 ft. With oily brown seeds, native to Europe and Asia.
Parts Used: Seeds and seed oil. Each seed is about 1/4-inch long. Approximately ten seeds occupy each pod. They contain from 30 to 40 percent light, yellow oil.
Active Ingredients: fatty acids, Palmitic, Steric, Oleic, Linoleic and Linolenic.
Precautions: No reports of toxicity, when used at recommended doses.


Current Culinary Sleuth Archive

This page created April 2000

Copyright © 1998-2001, Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.

This page modified February 2007