Living With Polio

What about Flaxseed?

Jann Hartman, Baltimore, Maryland

Fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon contain two omega-3 fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (EPA and DHA). A third kind, alpha-linolenic acid, is less potent. It comes from soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and oils made from those beans, nuts and seeds.

Flaxseed oil and flaxseeds (which need to be ground into flaxseed meal to be properly utilized by your body) each provide omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that the omega-3 fatty acids, especially those in fish,
have cardioprotective benefits, but that all omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid, the one in flaxseed, are needed for good health.

Flaxseeds are also a great source of soluble fiber as well as providing thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, trace minerals and even some high quality protein. You must consume them because your body cannot manufacture them.

To add this supplement to your diet, you can either use the flaxseeds whole or use the flaxseed oil. Practically, it is easier to use the oil and not have to bother with grinding the seeds Remember, the oil must be refrigerated so that it does turn rancid.

Nutritionally, flaxseeds will give you more bang for the buck. They have a pleasant, nut-like flavor and taste good sprinkled on a variety of foods. You must either chew the seeds very well or grind them, because whole seeds pass through the body without their essential nutrients being absorbed.

You can purchase ground seeds, but they are much more perishable than the whole seeds. Either way, they need to be kept in the refrigerator, too. The seeds can also be bought in bulk and kept in the freezer for even
longer storage.

The recommendation for adults is to use one or two tablespoons of flaxseed meal or oil daily. You can stir it into hot cereal or into your juice. It can also be used as a replacement for an egg in some recipes such as muffins or pancakes. To replace one egg, use one tablespoon flaxseed meal plus three tablespoons water (or other liquid). You can also mix one to three teaspoons of flaxseed oil with a little ketchup as a condiment. Be careful not to exceed recommended amounts as flax can have a laxative effect.

The bottom line is that flax, in either form, promotes heart and colon health, healthy skin, and helps to stabilize blood sugar. However, as any dietary supplement can have the potential for side effects and interactions with medications (both prescribed and over the counter), please check with your health care provider before adding this or any supplement to your diet.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that consumers not exceed more than a total of three grams per day of omega-3 fatty acids, with no more than two grams per day from a dietary supplement. 􀁺

Jann Hartman, a polio survivor, has a degree in Home Economics and Nutrition and has written and lectured on nutrition for the past 20 years.

Originally published in Post-Polio Health (Spring 2005, Vol. 21, No. 2)

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