Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum)
Energetics: cool; moist
Therapeutic Actions: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, laxative, mucilage, phytoestrogen
Here comes the uncomfortable truth…
The final stage of digestion…
The subject Grandma says we don’t talk about in polite company.
But, I am not polite – and bowel health is something we need to talk about. I see a world of people with swollen guts, lackluster complexions, allergies, and health problems – and I can’t help but think that a lot of our problems are related to a backed up, slow functioning, possibly toxic bowel.
The “standard American diet” (appropriately referred to as SAD) is particularly devoid of high-quality fiber (among other things, I might add). Swimming in sugar, other simple carbohydrates, processed fats, low-quality meat, and other junk, this diet is a disaster for the gut and the rest of the body, leaving us more susceptible to conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. The simple answer is to reduce the junk and replace it with more fruits, vegetables, and nutrient dense whole grains. The not so simple solution is finding a way to incorporate these into our daily diet.
This subject is broad and wide, but in an effort to do my part, I have selected to shine a spotlight on the ever lovely, fiber-rich flax.
Flaxseed Medicinal Benefits
Flax has a unique seed composed of fiber, mucilage, and omega 3 fatty acids, offering a multitude of health-promoting benefits. Inelegantly put, flaxseed adds sticky insoluble bulk to the digestive system. This essentially helps to bind other partially digested food, steady the rate at which food matter moves through the bowel, and helps to make nutrients more available for intestinal assimilation. In a 2015 study, researchers concluded that flaxseed offered both anti-diarrheal and constipation relief, due to its normalizing effect on the gut. Some research suggests that consumption of the seeds promotes a healthy prebiotic rich environment for gut bacteria, which is welcome news to folks suffering from leaky gut syndrome, diverticulitis, and other inflammatory bowel complaints. There is even enough evidence to suggest that flaxseed may reduce colon cancer risk.
Menopausal women and those experiencing hormonal imbalances (such as those associated with uterine fibroids and polycystic ovarian syndrome) may benefit from flaxseed due to its lignan content. Lignans are considered phytoestrogens. Upon digestion, lignan precursors are metabolized by gut bacteria to enterolignans, enterodiol, and enterolactone. These phytoestrogens can then bind to estrogen receptors throughout the body. This effectively has a net normalizing effect on hormones, with the weaker phytoestrogens not only providing estrogen when needed but also antagonizing excess endogenous estrogen present in tissues. This action is also thought to decrease prostate, ovarian, breast, and uterine cancers, while also helping to prevent osteoporosis.
Additionally, flaxseed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties greatly benefit the cardiovascular system, while it also helps to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.
Flaxseed is a grain crop, but there are some wild varieties. It prefers sunny locations and relatively cool weather for germination. It is characterized by a long slender stalk with a blue, five petal flower about 1” across. The brown or golden seeds are typically harvested after the stalk has become coarse and the seeds matured.
Flaxseed Safety & Dosage
Flax is considered quite safe for consumption as a food ingredient. Many sources indicate 45-50 grams of flaxseed is safe for daily use. Because the safety of therapeutic doses has not yet been established, women who are pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive should avoid consuming flaxseed for medicinal purposes.
Flaxseed & Date Fiber Truffles
Due to the high oil content of flaxseed, I purchase whole seeds and grind as needed to help maintain freshness and flavor. Brown and golden flaxseeds are available in most grocery stores and very affordable if purchased in bulk. It is easy enough to sprinkle your flax over some yogurt, add it to muffin batter, incorporate into granola, but sometimes I find it difficult to quantify the amount I am actually consuming. I love the idea of energy bites – quick little snacks that you can pop into your mouth in a hurry. Each one of these walnut sized “truffles” offers a little over four grams of fiber. It is recommended that the average woman consume at least 25 grams of fiber (30-38 grams for adult men). Just two or three of these fiber truffles can help ensure that you meet your daily requirement while also inviting all the other flaxseed related health benefits to the party.
The party in your now happy bowel.
Fiber Rich Flaxseed & Date "Truffles"
These nutritious "truffles" offer an enormous about of healthy fiber and other medicinal benefits of flaxseed.
- 150 grams ground brown or golden flaxseed just over 5 ounces
- 100 grams pitted dates just over 3 ounces
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/3 cup dried currants optional
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup carob or cocoa powder
- 1.5 teaspoons sugar
In a small saucepan combine dates and water. Cover and simmer for approximately 10 minutes until the dates are softened and can be easily pureed.
Add flaxseed, salt, and currants to the date puree and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is a stiff mass. You may need to add slightly more flax or water to make a firm but not too sticky mixture.
In a small bowl, mix carob/cocoa powder and sugar. Roll flaxseed and date mixture into walnut sized balls. Roll in carob/sugar mixture to coat.
Place in an airtight container for storage.
Linus Pauling Institute. Lignans
Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods. GMF Publishing.