Flaxseed, or linseed as it's commonly called, is an herb with a tall leafy stem. The plant contains blue or white flowers and shiny flattened seeds. Although tiny in size, flaxseeds offer enormous heart-health benefits. In fact, these small golden seeds happen to be one of the most perfect foods for those with blood pressure or cholesterol concerns.
First off, flaxseeds are a fabulous vegetarian source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids, which the body can't produce on its own. Omega-3 fats have the critical ability to penetrate layers of cholesterol-laden plaque, reducing blood vessel inflammation and preventing blood-clotting deposits from clogging arteries. Flaxseeds also contain phytosterols, which inhibit the body's ability to absorb dietary cholesterol.
The cholesterol-lowering benefits of flaxseeds also come from their significant fiber content, as they are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. And research on adding soluble fiber to the diet shows that it can reduce total cholesterol by 11 percent and LDL cholesterol by 18 percent over a two- to three-week period. In fact, many of my patients have lowered their cholesterol and lost weight (which, in turn, helps lower blood pressure) simply by drinking what I call a "Joe's Flax Shake" daily. Just add two tablespoons of ground organic flaxseeds to 8 to 10 ounces of soy milk. This shake makes a great (and delicious) meal replacement and, when followed with 1 to 2 glasses of water, will diminish your appetite for the next meal.
Filling Up On Flax
When working flax into your daily diet, keep in mind that you must grind the seeds to release the precious flaxseed oil that contains the heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Otherwise, the seeds will pass right through your system undigested. I recommend getting a coffee grinder and dedicating it to flaxseeds, because you don't want to mix ground coffee and flax. Also, you must use flax within hours of grinding it. Once exposed to air, the oil in ground flax goes rancid quickly (which is also why flax oil must be refrigerated).
You can sprinkle ground flax on just about anything: cereal, yogurt, ice cream, salads. Or mix it into soups, stews, and smoothies. But if you are a baker, you can also greatly enrich almost any cookie, bread, or muffin recipe—like the one below—by substituting freshly ground flax for ¼ of the flour called for in the recipe. (Get more heart-healthy recipes.)
Just keep in mind that because the fiber in flax attracts and holds moisture, you may also need to add a little extra liquid to the recipe. My rule of thumb is to let the dough or batter sit for 10 minutes after mixing. This allows the flax fiber to absorb liquid. After 10 minutes, if the batter is too stiff, add a bit more liquid to achieve the correct consistency.
Flax Bran Muffins
In this delicious variation on the usual bran muffin, molasses and prune juice add a light sweetness and moist texture, without a lot of fat and sugar. If you prefer a sweeter muffin, add 1/8 teaspoon of white stevia powder to the batter.
- ½ cup unprocessed wheat bran
- ½ cup boiling water
- 1 cup prune juice
- ¼ cup molasses
- 2 Tbsp. light olive oil or hazelnut oil
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup flaxseed
- ¾ cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. white stevia powder (optional)
- 1/3 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 400° F. Place wheat bran in large bowl and add boiling water. Stir to combine and set aside. In small bowl, combine prune juice, molasses, oil, and egg and beat lightly. Grind flaxseed in coffee or spice grinder. Add ground flaxseed to the wheat bran mixture, along with flour, cinnamon, ginger, soda, and salt. Mix well. Add prune juice mixture and raisins to wheat bran mixture and stir to combine. Let batter sit for 10-15 minutes. Divide batter between 12 paper-lined muffin cups. Bake for 14 minutes. © 2006 Monica Reinagel
Makes 12 muffins.
Nutrition Facts (per muffin): Calories 145, Total Fat 6 g, Saturated Fat 0g, Omega-3 fatty acids 1,450 mg, Carbs 22 g, Fiber 5 g