These tiny whole-grain brown and golden seeds contain a natural compound called lignans. When we eat flaxseed, bacteria in our gut convert these plant lignans to human lignans, which look very much like estrogen in the body. Once in the body, phytoestrogens from flaxseed have a weak estrogen action and they are able to bind to estrogen receptors (just like soy isoflavones). In so doing, they appear to block the action of our body’s own estrogen on breast cells.
Animal studies conducted at the University of Toronto have shown that flaxseed has anti-cancer properties.6 And a recent Canadian study found that flaxseed can slow breast cancer growth in women. Researchers at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and Toronto General Hospital studied 50 women who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer.7 While waiting for their surgery, the women were divided into two groups. One group received a daily muffin containing 50 grams of ground flaxseed (about 2 tablespoons) and the remaining women were given an ordi- nary muffin. When the tumors were removed, the researchers found that the women who had received the flaxseed muffins had slower-growing tumors than the others. These exciting findings suggest that a daily intake of flaxseed might offer protection from breast cancer.
Besides lignans, flaxseed is a source of fiber and of an essential fatty acid our body needs, called alpha linolenic acid. Aim to get 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed each day. Grind your flaxseed in a clean coffee grinder or use a mortar and pestle. If you want to spend the extra money, you can also buy flaxseed pre-ground at health food stores. Here are a few ways to add crunch and a great nutty flavor to your meals:
• Add ground flaxseed to hot cereals, muffin batters and cookie mixes. I have clients who even add it to cold breakfast cereal!
• Mix ground flaxseed into a single serving of yogurt.
• Sprinkle flaxseed on salads and soups.
• Add flaxseed to casseroles.
• Try a loaf of flaxseed bread. Check your local bakery or supermarket.
• Try Red River cereal, another good source of flaxseed.
Once you grind flaxseed, store it in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. The natural fats in flaxseed go rancid quickly if exposed to air and heat.