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By Jennifer Winger
Need proof that good things come in small packages? Take a closer look at the grain aisle in your grocery store. Flax, a tiny seed with big-time health benefits, may offer a new solution to the old problem of high cholesterol, which can clog arteries and raise the risk for atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke. Just a shade larger than a sesame seed, flaxseeds range in color from golden yellow to reddish brown. Thanks to three powerful nutrients—lignans, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids—this functional food can help send your LDL cholesterol spiraling downward.
In fact, in a 2004 evaluation of nine clinical trials, the journal Nutrition Reviews found that 15 to 50 grams (1 to 5 tablespoons) of flaxseed daily can reduce total cholesterol and LDL up to 18 percent. One of the clinical trials reviewed, for example, monitored 38 postmenopausal women to determine the effect of whole flaxseed on blood lipids. The women ate 38 grams daily of whole flaxseed baked into breads or muffins over six weeks. After a two-week washout period, they were given the same amount of whole sunflower seed daily for another six weeks. The researchers found that the group experienced a 14.7 percent greater reduction in LDL from the flaxseed than from the sunflower seed. Although the small and highly specific nature of the sample group—38 postmenopausal women—makes drawing hard-and-fast conclusions a tad risky, such statistics seem to point to the cholesterol-busting power of flaxseed.
You can buy whole or ground flaxseed at most natural food stores, making it easy to keep your kitchen stocked and your diet flax-rich. If you opt to take flaxseed oil, choose products that contain the plant lignans, but you won’t benefit from the seeds’ fiber. Some experts recommend grinding whole flaxseed to ensure the maximum absorption of its many nutrients. You can do this at home using a small coffee grinder. Also remember to refrigerate all flaxseed, particularly ground seed and flaxseed oils, to prevent spoilage. In a dark, cool environment, even ground flaxseed will stay fresh for several months.
With this powerful ingredient only a scoop away, incorporating flaxseed into your daily eating routine is easy—just get creative. Try flaxseed or flaxseed meal as a crunchy companion to your favorite yogurt. You can also sprinkle a tablespoon over sliced peaches, stir some into cereals, or combine a cup of cottage cheese with flaxseeds and seasonal berries. As for the oil, try pouring some on a salad, veggies, or cooked pasta.
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