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Just the flax, ma’am

It seems that just about every product in the health food store is made with flax seed, the new wonder food (apparently).

Some of the amazing properties attributed to the tiny seed are preventing cancer, lowering blood pressure, cleaning out the bad cholesterol from the arteries and stabilizing blood sugar to help control diabetes.

Many of these claims have been studied, but there is not yet any conclusive proof.

On the other hand, flax seed offers a ton of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to provide a number of health benefits, making it a good addition to everyone’s diet, but especially vegetarians.’

The other nutritional powerhouse found in flax seed is lignan, a phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens are plant-based chemicals that act like estrogen, making flax seed a popular choice for women trying to relieve menopause symptoms. Phyoestrogens also provide a hefty dose of antioxidants, which may explain the seeds’ cancer-fighting claims.

Like all wonder foods, flax seed is esoteric and a bit difficult to use.

Flax is native to the Middle East and was first cultivated in prehistoric times, probably in the Fertile Crescent.

The plant produces both a fiber and a seed that are useful. The fiber is used to make linen cloth; the seeds are either ground into an edible paste or cold pressed to make linseed oil.

Flax seed is stable in its whole form and will last for months at room temperature. However, the body does not digest whole seeds well; they’ll often pass right through. You can use a coffee grinder to grind the seeds and make your own paste, or just look for ground flax seed in the store. Bob’s Red Mill sells it as flax seed meal. Store the meal in the freezer; it can get rancid after a few weeks at room temperature.

There’s no consensus on how much flax seed you  need to eat every day to see a benefit. In one Canadian study, women consumed 4 tablespoons daily for a year; they saw their LDL cholesterol lowered. The most common recommendation is 1 to 2 tablespoons a day.

Flax seed or meal can be added to most baked goods (replace up to 1⁄2 cup of the flour in recipes calling for 2 cups of flour or more) and can be stirred into oatmeal, smoothies, soups or yogurt. Try adding it to dishes with dark sauces, like chili or beef stew. You can also incorporate it into meatballs or meatloaf.

Recently I got a recipe in an email for a flax seed treat. This recipe mimics a popular health food bar you can find at most local grocery stores and even some gas stations. I don’t buy those bars, so I can’t tell you how close this recipe is, but I can tell you that it’s yummy. I also added chocolate chips because, well, everything is better with chocolate.

Apricot flax seed bars

Adapted from SparkPeople Recipe of the Day

Makes 12 bars

2 tablespoons flax seed (or about 3 tablespoons ground flax seed);   1⁄2 cup maple syrup, honey or agave syrup (or anything sticky. I used low-calorie pancake syrup);   1 teaspoon salt;  1 cup roasted slivered almonds;  1⁄2 cup dried apricots, chopped;  1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut;  1⁄2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flax seed, syrup and salt in a bowl. Add the almonds, apricots, coconut and chocolate chips and stir until they’re nicely combined. Spread the mixture in an 8-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges start to brown.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. If you try to take them out when they’re too hot, they’ll fall apart, but if you wait too long, you’ll have to chip them out with a chisel.


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