Flax seed and its derivative flaxseed oil come from the flax plant and are good sources of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which is an essential fatty acid. ALA is found in some types of beans, and in canola, soybean, flaxseed/linseed, and olive oil. ALA is the precursor to other omega 3-fatty acids. Omega 3-fatty acids are essential fats that are not made by the body so they need to be consumed from food sources or supplements. These healthy fats are important nutrients required by our bodies to function properly.
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Omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful for heart disease and other health problems. Although omega-3 fatty acids can be associated with improved cardiovascular outcomes, clinical studies are not conclusive as to the efficacy of flaxseed products for coronary artery disease or treatment of elevated lipid levels.
Flax seeds are a rich source of lignans (plant estrogens). This finding has prompted theories that lignans may play a role in preventing estrogen-dependent cancers, such as breast cancer and other types of cancer. Emerging literature has also suggested that flaxseed supplements may be useful in men with early-stage prostate cancer, but not all the studies have found this to be true. Further clinical studies are needed to determine its usefulness in preventing or treating prostate cancer and other forms of cancer. Flaxseed oil does not contain lignans and therefore cannot be linked to any anti-cancer properties.
The nutrient content of flax is also different depending on whether it ingested whole or as an oil. While both contain ALA, flaxseed oil is a more concentrated source. The flax seed is also good source of fiber and may act as a laxative. Flax oil contains no fiber because the fiber component of flaxseed is removed when extracting the oil. Flax seeds or flax seed oil can easily be incorporated into your diet. Flax seeds can be sprinkled on cereal, soups, or smoothies. They can also be added to dishes such as stews and casseroles. Ground flax seeds can be substituted for flour when baking to boost the nutritional value of bread, cookies, cakes, pancakes, waffles and muffins. Flaxseed oil can be mixed into cottage cheese or other foods. The oil is also available as a soft gel capsule supplement.
Consult with your physician before incorporating flax into your diet especially if you are taking blood thinning medications, birth control pills or hormone replacement therapies and if you have diabetes or are pregnant. Flaxseed supplements may alter the effects of some prescription and nonprescription medications. You should read product labels, and discuss all therapies with a qualified healthcare provider before adding flax into your diet.
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