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Lignans, functional foods, and the health benefits of some flaxseed meal

Flaxseed contains high levels of lignans, which are natural antioxidants. The lignans can bond with circulating substances in your body that might promote unchecked cell growth. Even though most plant foods contain lignans, flaxseed meal has at least 75 times more than other plant foods. You may wish to check out the abstract of a review, "Lignans and human health,"Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2007.

Lignans, functional foods, and the health benefits of some flaxseed meal.
Anne Hart, photography.

The review focused on the possible role in human health of the consumption of lignan-rich foods such as flaxseed meal or walnuts. Most of the plant lignans in human foods are converted by the intestinal microflora in the upper part of the large bowel to enterolactone and enterodiol, called mammalian or enterolignans. The protective role of these compounds, particularly in chronic Western diseases, is discussed in that review.

Evidence suggests that fiber- and lignan-rich whole-grain cereals, beans, berries, nuts, and various seeds are the main protective foods, says the abstract of the research

Many factors, in addition to diet, such as intestinal microflora, smoking, antibiotics, and obesity affect circulating lignan levels in the body. Lignan-rich diets may be beneficial, particularly if consumed for life. Experimental evidence in animals has shown clear anticarcinogenic effects of flaxseed or pure lignans in many types of cancer. Many epidemiological results are controversial, partly because the determinants of plasma enterolactone are very different in different countries.

The results are promising, says the 2007 abstract, but much work is still needed in this area of medicine. If you look in some of Sacramento's supermarkets in their natural food aisles, chances are you'll see bags of flaxseeds or flaxseed meal, already ground into a course meal.

The source of the lignans seems to play a role because other factors in the food obviously participate in the protective effects, says that review's abstract

Eating any food today that's relatively high in lignans? You can't eat the flaxseed unless it is ground into meal, otherwise the whole seed passes through and is eliminated. And you don't want seeds that are not ground up into meal damaging your intestines either. So put the flaxseeds in a coffee grinder and turn them into meal or put them in a blender and puree/emulsify them in a smoothie or other liquid beverage.

Two tablespoons of flaxseed meal have as many lignans as 30 cups of raw broccoli. Flaxseed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids known as alpha-linolenic acid. One serving of flaxseed meal contains 2,400 mg of omega-3. But don't eat more than six tablespoons at a time because too much flax seed meal can stimulate your thyroid too much. Usually two tablespoons per day if enough.

Vegan flaxseed meal and oat bran chewies: No added salt, table sugar baking powder, or baking soda. The flaxseed meal acts like an egg substitute. No leavening is needed.

1 1/4 cup of amaranth flour. (You can grind amaranth into meal/flour in a coffee grinder).

3/4 cup of flax seed meal

1 cup oat bran

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 cup of chopped or grated carrots. (You can put peeled carrots in a blender with water, grate them for a few seconds, and pour out the water/drain.)

2 peeled apples diced into small chunks

1/4 up dried goji berries or blueberries

1/4 cup raisins or 1/2 cup chopped prunes

1/2 cup chopped walnut (optional)

3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk or other nondairy unsweetened beverage such as soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk, or cherry or pomegranate juice blended with a peeled avocado into a creamy liquid

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle cookie sheets with a layer of brown sesame seeds or any color chia seeds to create a barrier instead of greasing the cookie pans.

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the chopped/diced fruit. Stir the ingredients. Add the liquid to form a paste consistency. If too thick, add more liquid such as almond milk or cherry juice. If too thin, add more bran or meal to thicken. If not sweet enough, add more chopped prunes or raisins.

Stir until the ingredients are blended. Let sit for five minutes so the oat bran absorbs the liquid. Then form into a flat shape about half an inch in height, and spread over the sesame or chia seeds spread across the cookie sheet. Cut in squares by making vertical and horizontal cuts. Optional, dust top with almond meal or crushed walnut pieces, if desired.

Bake until the wet ingredients are dry and feel to the touch chewy, not wet or too watery to chew. The 'brownies' will taste chewy, not like cookies, but like an unleavened muffin. Baking time depends upon how long it takes for the squares to harden so they're relatively dry, but not hardened to hurt the teeth, and still easy to chew, like a brownie. With some ovens it takes 40 minutes, with others an hour or less.

These may be dehydrated for several hours until dry enough and chewable, if you would rather dehydrate than bake these chewies.

Why flaxseed meal is called a functional food

It's the The lupins in the flaxseed meal that contain substances that research has found to have a positive impact on the cholesterol level. Linseed is said to protect against cancer -- but not everybody likes the taste, says the September 5, 2008 news release, "Functional food -- delicious and healthy." Researchers have now isolated the valuable components of the flax seeds. Incorporated in bread, cakes or dressings, they support the human organism without leaving an unpleasant aftertaste. What's in flaxseed meal are substances known as phytoestrogens. They have a similar effect to that of the isoflavones that come from soy beans.

Cake that can ward off cancer? Noodles that lower the cholesterol level? What sounds like an advertising stunt could soon be a reality. Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising (Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft) have isolated valuable components of linseed and lupin seeds and experimentally incorporated them in various foodstuffs: the linseed in cakes, bread, dressings and sauces, the lupins in bread, rolls and pasta.

The result is not only delicious, but healthy as well. "Flax is not only high in soluble fiber, but also contains lignans. These substances are phytoestrogens, so they have a similar effect to that of the isoflavones that we know from soy beans. According to the literature, they protect the organism against hormone-dependent forms of cancer – that is, breast and prostate cancer," says IVV project manager Dr. Katrin Hasenkopf, according to the news release, Functional food -- delicious and healthy. "The lupins, on the other hand, contain substances that our studies have found to have a positive impact on the cholesterol level." But how do the researchers isolate the valuable components?

"We make use of the differing solubility of the various constituents: If the pH value is acidic, the unwanted bitter substances are the first to dissolve. If the pH value is then set back to neutral, you get the valuable proteins – without the bitter taste. We are also able to separate large components from small ones by a series of filtration steps," explains Hasenkopf, according to the news release.

The scientists are already skilled at isolating the valuable constituents. Now (at the time of the news release) they are preparing to conduct further investigations with the aim of confirming the effects they hope to see. "The healthy effects of linseed and lupin seeds are already known from literature, but so far there is a lack of conclusive scientific investigations on the subject. These substances undoubtedly have very high potential," says Hasenkopf, according to the 2008 news release.

Linseed and lupin foods

The researchers presented the linseed and lupin foods at the Biotechnica trade fair in Hannover on October 7 through 9, 2008. As of the 2008 news release, researchers predicted that in about three years' time, the expert hopes, the new cholesterol-lowering foodstuffs will be available on supermarket shelves – maybe even including cakes, bread rolls and sauces enriched with the valuable substances obtained from flax seeds. That would move us from the 2008 presentation to 2011, which now in 2014, is three years in the past.

As for flaxseed meal, here in the USA, it's becoming more popular as a baking substitute for eggs in homes where vegans use it for baking, dehydrading snacks, or sprinkling it over blueberries. For an unusual breakfast dessert, put two tablespoons of flax seed meals over a bowl of blueberries.

Then add a teaspoon of Spirulina and a teaspoon of barley green powder. Mix, add a small amount of protein powder, if desired, and some almond milk. Mix and enjoy. If you need more of a sweet taste, add some dried goji berries or slices from a quarter of a banana. Or mix with strawberries. You might use this breakfast treat as dessert after a bowl of steamed whole oat groats with lentils or cooked black beans.

Can ground flaxseeds also help reduce high blood pressure?

You might check out an excellent article in the February/March 2014 issue of Townsend Letter by Dr. Jeremy Mikolai, ND, "Basic Lifestyle Interventions for High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol." The article discusses how to get more fiber to reduce blood pressure. For example, Dr. Mikolai encourages patients to make small daily dietary interventions that can accumulate to large changes in their lipid profile, blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome traits. For example, the article discusses helping patients move in the direction of consuming 40 to 50 grams of fiber each day, for some.

The diet discussed in the article advises patients to get 50% soluble fiber and 50% insoluble fiber. Fiber helps to bind up cholesterol, says the article. The reason for this much insoluble fiber is that it helps to keep cholesterol moving out of the body through the stool. The article states that increased dietary fiber can lower LDL-c 5% to 10% as it may help decrease blood pressure and body weight. The medical journal article reference to this is the study and PDF format article, "Lowering LDL-cholesterol through diet: potential role in the statin era." Current Opinion in Lipidology, 2011, 22:43–48.

Dr. Mikolai's article discusses how flaxseed meal and cinnamon can bring rapid improvements in blood pressure

The Townsend Letter article explains that in small clinical trails, just 30 grams a day of ground flax seed (flax seed meal) added to the diet during a six-month period can result in blood pressure reductions of up to 10/7 mmHg in the flax seed group when compared with controls.

Even participants who started the trial with the most severe high blood pressure showed even greater reductions in blood pressure of 15/7 mmHg. The reference article in a medical journal that Dr. Mikolai gives for this statement is "Potent antihypertensive action of dietary flaxseed in hypertensive Patients," published in the journal Hypertension. (E-published October 14, 2013).

Also you may wish to see, "Flaxseed may reduce blood pressure, early findings show -" And you may wish to check out the articles, "Artery-Dilating Flaxseed Proven A Potent Healer" or "Potent Antihypertensive Action of Dietary Flaxseed in hypertensive patients." According to that study's abstract, flaxseed induced one of the most potent antihypertensive effects achieved by a dietary intervention.

Ground flaxseed is an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fiber full of plant sterols

The ground flaxseed (meal) helps to lower cholesterol and also at the same time decrease the body's absorption of carbohydrates if you're eating carbs with the flax seed meal. Besides the plant sterols in the flax seed meal, (freshly ground flax seeds) there's also the omega 3 oils (alpha-linolenic acid) in that flaxseed meal.

If you're buying flax seeds, you may want to choose organic golden flax seeds and grind them in an electric coffee grinder into a fresh meal consistency. Dr. Mikolai's article recommends 6 to 8 tablespoons of flax seed meal daily in order to get a blood pressure reducing benefit. That's also the amount of 10 grams of fiber added to your diet. That amount also adds up to about 40 mg of plant sterols. Plants have sterols and stanols. Plant sterols also are known as phytostanols. Plant stanols are cholesterol-like compounds found in plant products, such as grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits.

If you don't like flax seeds ground into meal, you could use psyllium supplements, oats, oat meal, oat groats, steel-cut oatmeal, or barley. Then again, people who can't tolerate the gluten in barley probably would choose the flax seeds. Just be aware that some articles explain that if you exceed 6 tablespoons of flaxseed meal daily, it might affect or overstimulate your thyroid. See, "Flaxseed oil may cause a thyroid problem." Or check out, "Talking Thyroid Facts - Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation." You also may wish to see the news or another study that looked at the benefits of eating some walnuts and flaxseed meal: Walnuts, walnut oil, improve reaction to stress.

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