Flax seed. Some consider it a miracle food. Most have at least heard of its mysterious power to lower cholesterol, blood triglyceride levels, and blood pressure. Many even put this information into practice, mixing ground flax seed into their oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, and baked goods.
But what exactly is it?
While not exactly a grain, flax is quite similar to one in terms of fiber and fat content. It is a plant, usually with pale blue flowers, that grows about one meter tall. The seeds are contained within the fruit, which is a sort of dry capsule. Flax is also known as linseed.
What makes it so good?
The seeds contain a host of nutritional chemicals, but its two most notable nutrients are alpha linolenic acid and lignans. The former is an essential omega-3 fatty acid, which does wonders for the cardiovascular system. Unfortunately, most North American diets barely contain a fraction of the recommended amount of this nutrient. Lignans contain plant estrogen qualities, which have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.
Whole seeds are chemically stable. Once ground (and to be nutritionally useful, the seeds must be ground), the seeds' exposed unsaturated fatty acids become prone to oxidation. Thus, ground flax seed must always be stored in sealed containers in the refrigerator.