Originally published in icon Issue 1 2007
Barbara Cox is passionate about food and the benefits people get from eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. During her eight year stay in Japan, she was inspired by the fact that the Japanese have lower rates of cancer, heart disease and obesity than people in the UK, primarily because of their diet.
After returning to England, Barbara set up her own company, Nutrichef, which delivers a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday to customers homes.
What is Flax?
Flax - also known as Linseed is an annual plant found originally in India but now grown worldwide. It grows to just over a metre tall and produces true blue flowers and dry fruit capsules that each contain several glossy, brown, apple-pip-shaped seeds 4-7mm long. Flax is grown for its seeds and fibre and has been used over the centuries in the manufacture of a myriad of products including fabric, dye, varnish, paper, medicines, soap and fishing nets!
There are two varieties of flax seed brown and yellow (otherwise known as golden) both of which can be eaten. Cold pressed flaxseed oil is also suitable for human consumption and is often taken as a supplement in capsule form.
Nutritional Properties of Flax
Brown and yellow flax seeds have similar nutritional values and are a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Oily fish are also a source of omega-3s, but there is a difference. Those from fish are long-chain omega-3s, whilst those from plants are short-chain. The numerous expert research studies of Vane and others on the benefits of omega-3s with inflammation, Cox-2 and eicosanoids have all shown that long chain is the active form and short chain is inert. That is not to say that plant omega-3s do you no good; far from it. In the body there is about 12 per cent conversion from short to long and flax is especially important in populations with low fish diets. The only exception is a variety of yellow flax called solin, which provides relatively little omega-3. Omega-3 acids are also very important in maintaining a healthy diet as they reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and plaque formation in arteries.
Besides providing omega-3s, flax seeds are an excellent source of cancer-fighting phytonutrients called lignans. Lignans also act as Prebiotics, feeding the populations of certain beneficial bacteria in the colon and stimulating the immune system. Populations with a high intake of phytonutrients have been found to have a lower incidence and mortality rate of breast, colon and prostate cancers. One such population is the Japanese, who typically consume a low-fat, high-fibre diet rich in isoflavonoids from soya beans and lignans from vegetables and grains. Studies linking flax consumption with a reduction in breast, colon and prostate cancers have been carried out and are summarised as follows:
Studies have shown that women with a history of breast cancer have significantly lower levels of the mammalian lignans enterodiol and enterolactone, which are made from the plant lignans secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG) and matairesinol diglycoside (MDG) when flax seeds are consumed. In addition, lignans have been found to reduce levels of oestrogen, the lifetime exposure to which has strongly been linked with breast cancer.
Since the colon is the region where mammalian lignans are produced from plant lignans, a number of studies have been carried out to find out whether flax plays a role in the prevention of colon cancer. The tests have revealed that cell proliferation a precursor to tumour growth was significantly less likely when flax seeds were part of the diet.
In a preliminary clinical study, 25 men with prostate cancer were each given 30g of flax a day for a month as part of a low-fat diet. At the end of the month it was found that prostate cancer cell proliferation had decreased, while cancer cell death had increased among these men as compared with a control group.
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Cooking with Flax
Flax is very versatile when it comes to cooking. You can do all of the following!
- Caramelise ground flax, mixed nuts and malt barley extract for a great muesli topping
- Dip chunks of fruit in a mixture of ground flax and desiccated coconut, then stick them on wooden skewer to make fruit kebabs
- Mash an avocado and one tablespoon of ground flax to make a healthy sandwich spread
- Add one tablespoon of ground flax to a hummus mixture for extra goodness
- Sprinkle ground flax on a fruit salad or over fruit pures for a quick dessert
And why not try my recipes for Flaxseed Cookies and Flaxseed and Green Tea Muffins?
- 250g oats
- 110g wholemeal flour
- 50g ground flax seeds
- 50g raisins
- 50g cashew nuts
- 100g brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- teaspoon ground nutmeg
- teaspoon ground ginger
- teaspoon baking powder
- 200ml sunflower oil
- 200ml water or Oat Milk (other non-dairy milks are good, too)
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add oil and mix.
Stir in water or milk to make a firm mixture.
Place heaped spoonfuls on a baking tray and then flatten.
Dust with extra ground flax.
Bake for 12-15 mins, then cool and serve.
Flaxseed and Green Tea Muffins
- 125g ground flaxseed
- 125g self-raising wholewheat flour
- 1 egg
- 50g brown sugar (optional)
- 2 tablespoons of soya yogurt
- 100g sunflower oil
- 1 tablespoon loose green tea (ground to powder in a coffee grinder)
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
Mix the yogurt and egg, then
Add the flour, flaxseed, sugar, green tea and lemon.
Spoon the mixture into muffin cups.
Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Note that ground flaxseed naturally flavoured with blueberries or apple and cinnamon can be ordered from Nutrichef at www.nutrichef.co.uk