These seeds can be really healthy if you eat them right

These seeds are really healthy, but you need to know how to eat them.

 Flaxseed (Illustrative) (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Flaxseed (Illustrative)
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

Flax seeds are probably the most successful food trend to develop in Israel recently. They’re enriched with dietary fiber, are full of beneficial fatty acids and even provide plant protein. Here’s how to eat them properly, and who should avoid them.

It seems that the popularity of flax as a trendy "health food" is recent, but in fact it’s a comeback. It was grown in ancient Egypt where it was seen as a symbol of purity, and there is evidence of its use even 30,000 years ago. 

Today you can find flax seeds either whole or ground as an ingredient in various products such as crackers, breads and energy bars. It's not for nothing that the Latin name of flax is linum usitatissimum or in Hebrew "very useful”.

Protection against heart disease

Flax seeds have many nutritional benefits. First, they’re a rich plant source of the alpha-linoleic acid ALA ,an omega-3 fatty acid; eating flax may help protect against heart disease. 

 Flaxseed (Illustrative) (credit: FLICKR) Flaxseed (Illustrative) (credit: FLICKR)

A healthy dose of fiber

Second, the seeds are a dietary fiber bomb. Two tablespoons of flaxseed has 6 grams of fiber, about 15-20% of the recommended daily intake in Israel for adults over the age of 19. Enriching our daily menus with dietary fiber may help reduce the risk of heart disease, promote satiety, and support proper digestive function as they provide plant protein, vitamins and other minerals such as thiamine (vitamin B1), magnesium, folic acid, copper, calcium, phosphorus and more.

Despite these many benefits, there are some reservations held about flaxseed consumption for children and pregnant women. Flaxseed contains an ingredient called lignan, which although attributed to several health benefits, is recommended to limit its consumption during pregnancy. 

Tova Krause, clinical dietitian and expert in gestational nutrition, explained that lignan is a phytoestrogen, a plant substance that is similar in structure to the hormone estrogen. It can bind to estrogen receptors in the body and inhibit estrogen activity or create estrogenic activity. Because of the possible hormonal effect, some health bodies recommend limiting the amount of flaxseed during pregnancy to no more than three teaspoons of ground flaxseed per day. They also recommend avoiding flaxseed oil.

Children can also enjoy flax, but pay attention to the amount and adjust it to the needs and age of the child. Pediatric dietitian Tirtza Shani pointed out that for babies and toddlers the seeds should be ground and given in combination with yogurt, porridge, pancakes and even warm soup. Note that flax seeds contain a relatively high amount of dietary fiber, so the amount given should be according to how well a child's digestive system functions. Pay attention to your child’s total daily fiber consumption.

Shani added that "in unground seeds, a small percentage will usually break down inside the gut and will only be a source of fiber. This form is best given at older ages (over 5 years old) when children are able to cope with eating nuts."

What should you buy?

Flax seeds can be bought whole or ground. Whole seeds have a hard shell to digest and may therefore pass through our digestive tract just as they are, and we’ll miss a large portion of their benefits. It’s therefore recommended to eat them ground. 

Although ground seeds are available, it would be best to do it ourselves and grind them as close as possible to preparation and eating to avoid oxidizing the fatty acids in them following exposure to air. It can be done easily at home using a spice grinder, coffee grinder or food processor. Ground or not, keep flax seeds in the refrigerator or freezer in an air-tight container.

Here are some preparation options for using flaxseed in everyday meals.

Egg substitute for vegans

A useful trick in vegan cuisine is based on the texture created by mixing flax with water. In order to use flax seeds as a vegan egg substitute in baked goods, soak a tablespoon of ground flaxseed in 3 tablespoons of water for a few minutes. When the batter becomes viscous, combine it with other ingredients.

Addition to baked goods and stews

Like many seeds and kernels, use flax seeds in homemade cookie recipes, energy bars, breads, cakes and crackers or add them to soups and patties. Also, use flax in no-bake recipes like homemade energy balls.

An addition that will enrich any porridge

Put a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed in oatmeal, smoothies, yogurts and smoothie bowls. In their ground form, the seeds will absorb liquids and provide a rich and thick texture.

Crunchy topping

If you want to use the seeds whole, sprinkle them as a crunchy addition over any salad, yogurt or smoothie bowl.

Flax pudding is great

You probably know about chia pudding, but have you heard of flaxseed pudding? Mix in a jar a quarter cup of ground flax with three quarters of a cup of milk of your choice, a teaspoon of natural maple syrup (or any other liquid sweetener), a little vanilla extract and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, top with fruits, granola, seeds and/or nuts.

Gil Avidor-Aloni is a food blogger and consultant in changing eating habits, with a bachelor's degree in psychology from Tel Aviv University, and a health coach certified by the New York Institute for Integrative Nutrition.