Flax as a regular part of the diet
Prairie flax is a high quality food. It contains the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids - alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid respectively; fibre; and lignans. Health experts encourage the regular use of flax in the diet for better health.
Omega-3 fatty acid
About 42% of the flax seed is oil, and more than 70% of that oil is of the healthful polyunsaturated fat. Too much of the diet today is composed of saturated and trans fatty acids. The flax seed oil component contains 57% of the important omega-3 fatty acid, ALA. A unique feature of flax is the high ratio of ALA to linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid).
Nutritionists consider these two polyunsaturated fatty acids as essential because the body cannot manufacture them from any other substances. This means they must be eaten as a part of the diet. While other plant seeds — corn, sunflower, peanuts — contains the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, flax contains much more of the essential omega-3 fatty acid.
Flax seed contains soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre can lower blood cholesterol levels, while insoluble fibre moves the stool through the colon more quickly, helping with regular bowel movements. What makes flax stand out above other whole grains is its mix of fibre. Rather than containing large amounts of one type of fibre, flax seeds contain generous quantities of both soluble and insoluble fibre.
Most of the soluble fibre in flax seeds is mucilage, a thick, sticky substance. Few studies have looked at the direct effects of mucilage on health. But studies show that eating flax (baked into muffins and breads) can lower blood cholesterol levels. Since it is well known that soluble fibres — fruit pectin, oat bran or mustard seed mucilage — are effective cholesterol-lowering agents, it's likely that the soluble fibre in flax seeds is no exception.
Not surprisingly, studies show that the insoluble fibre in flax, like that in wheat bran, is helpful for regulating bowel movements and preventing constipation. Because flax's insoluble fibre components have the capacity to hold water, they help soften the stool and allow it to move through the colon more quickly.
Flax seed is also one of the richest plant sources of lignans, providing up to 800 times more lignans than most other plant derived foods. Lignans are phytoestrogens – compounds that have been shown in laboratory studies of animals to help protect against certain kinds of cancer, particularly cancers of the breast and colon, by blocking tumour formation. When bacteria in the digestive tract act on plant lignans these compounds are converted into potent hormone-like substances. Research with animals suggests that the newly formed compounds may be capable of blocking the action of certain cancer-causing substances in the body, substances that can contribute to the formation of tumours.
Currently , scientists are trying to determine how effective lignans and other chemicals in foods (phytochemicals) are at preventing cancer. They are also looking over evidence that suggests the omega-3 fatty acids in flax are potential anticarcinogens.