Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pick of the Week: Flaxseed

Drum roll please: Everyday Health chose flaxseed as its 10th most powerful food.

For years, I had seen flaxseed oil in what was then called health food stores, but had no idea what to do with it. Plus, it was pricey, so I never bothered to find out. Then I went on one of my thousands of diets -- Ann Louise Gittleman's Fat Flush, and flaxseed oil and ground flaxseed became part of my daily diet.

Everyday Health chose flaxseed because it is loaded with alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that helps reduce inflammation. It has been used for centuries for medicinal and health reasons. Even Ghandi said: "Wherever flaxseed becomes a regular food among the people, there will be better health."

The seeds are a great source of fiber, very usable protein, fatty acids, and minerals such as magnesium, potassium and zinc.

Gittleman includes it in her diet because of its metabolism-raising action and ability to bind to the oil-soluble poisons in our livers, carrying them out of the liver for elimination. And the essential fatty acids stimulate bile production, crucial to the breakdown of fats.

The hardest thing about flaxseed is how to incorporate it into your diet, something that Everyday Health failed to explain. So my tips are from Gittleman.

1. You cannot cook with flaxseed oil because it is a highly unsaturated oil, sensitive to heat, air and light, and can go rancid if not treated with TLC. The oil must be kept in the refrigerator and used before its expiration date.
2. The seeds must be ground because we cannot digest the whole seeds. It's best to buy whole seeds, and grind them as you use them.
3. The down side of flaxseed is that it contains cyanogenic glycosides -- also found in lima beans, sweet potatoes, yams and bamboo shoots. Cyanogenic glycosides metabolize another substance, thiocyanate, a chemical that has the potential, over time, of suppressing the thyroid's ability to take up sufficient iodine, raising the risk of goiter. To counter this, Gittleman suggests consuming a maximum 3 to 4 tablespoons of seeds a day, and toasting them in a 250-degree oven for 15-20 minutes, until crispy. (The oil does not contain cyanogenic glycosides.)

And one more thing: Gittleman says the oil has a nutty taste. I call it funky -- reminding me of the liquid vitamins my mother forced on me when I was a kid.

As for the capsules, since Gittleman says you need 2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil a day, that translates into 18 capsules a day. That really hurts your wallet.

With so many rules, what's the best way to incorporate it into your diet? Gittleman's cocktail, which is anything but. Or, the oil can be used as a dressing, sprinkled on vegetables, or stirred into yogurt.

Her cocktail, which you take first thing in the morning and just before bed, increases elimination and balances hormones. It really does take some getting used to. In the morning, you follow the cocktail with a glass of warm water and freshly squeezed lemon juice -- and I promise that any elimination issues you might have are gone.

The first step in her cocktail is to make cranberry water, a mix of 4 ounces of unsweetened cranberry juice and 28 ounces of water. That's unsweetened cranberry juice -- not cranberry juice cocktail, which is loaded with sugar. Believe me: Unsweetened cranberry juice is not tasty. I always used Trader Joe's.

The cocktail is 8 ounces of cranberry water mixed with 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed. Another thing about flaxseed: It does not mix well into the cranberry water. But you get used to that.

In addition, on Gittleman's diet, you consume 1 tablespoon of organic high-lignan flaxseed oil twice a day. According to Gittleman, the oil is essential for its high omega 3 fat-fighting and insulin-regulating potential. I took it plain, because I really didn't like the taste and didn't want to spoil a good salad. But here are two Gittleman recipes starring flaxseed oil.

4 Tblsp. flaxseed oil
3 Tblsp. apple cider vinegar
3 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Put all ingredients in a small covered jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Makes 4 servings.
4 Tblsp. flaxseed oil
4 Tblsp. fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Put all ingredients in a small covered jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Makes 4 servings.


  1. I don't think I'll be rushing to make that cocktail! Drinking 2 or so Tbs. of the flax oil, that I try to remember to do. I am not at all good at remembering to take supplements, tho.

  2. Okay, okay Val, maybe I'll try one of these dressings. I was looking for a good way to incorporate flax into my diet. I tried flax crackers at my daughter's house. They tasted like foot, which is what I told my grand daughter. Her laugh was the best reason to eat the flax cracker. I hope the salad dressing is better!


    Hi Val -- just read this about flax. More to your point about the benefits.

  4. I love flaxseed now! I sprinkle the ground stuff on everything for added fiber now days and add the oil to lots too. Thanks for the recipes.