October 11, 2007

Foods rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Flax (also known as Common Flax or Linseed) is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. The New Zealand flax is unrelated. Flax is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent.[1] It was extensively cultivated in ancient Egypt.

It is an erect annual plant growing to 1.2 m tall, with slender stems. The leaves are glaucous green, slender lanceolate, 20-40 mm long and 3 mm broad. The flowers are pure pale blue, 15-25 mm diameter, with five petals. The fruit is a round, dry capsule 5-9 mm diameter, containing several glossy brown seeds shaped like an apple pip, 4-7 mm long.

In addition to the plant itself, flax may refer to the unspun fibres of the flax plant.

Flax has long been known for its use in linen clothing, and now it is gaining considerable attention as a food for its possible role in lowering the risk of heart disease. Flaxseed is an ancient, blue flowering crop cultivated extensively in Canada. The flax plant produces a fiber from which linen is woven and an edible seed from which oil can be extracted. During the industrial revolution, flaxseed oil, also called linseed oil, was commonly used in paints, varnishes, and linoleum.

Flaxseed has long been valued for its health benefits but only recently have researchers investigated its helpful compounds. One of the unique characteristics of flax is the oil in the seed. Flaxseed is over 40 percent oil. Like other vegetable oils, flax oil is a mixture of fatty acids, but it is the highest single source of a fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA.

ALA is a member of the omega-3 fatty acid family. They are essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make, but absolutely needs for normal growth and development. These fats must be supplied by diet. Hundreds of studies have shown that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of heart attacks, strokes, and abnormal heart rhythms. Lately, omega-3 fatty acids have become more visible in the grocery store as various producers are selling eggs that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Well the easiest way to increase the omega-3 fatty acids in eggs is to feed the hen flaxseed. Thus, we the end consumer, have a choice—eat omega-3 enriched eggs or go to the source and add flax to our diet directly!

Whole flax seeds are sold inexpensively at natural-food stores and some Indian grocery stores. It is best to buy them whole and grind them as needed in a coffee grinder. It is imperative to grind these tiny, hard-shelled seeds, or they will pass through the body undigested. Ground flax meal is also available in some health stores but it should be refrigerated in an airtight, opaque container, where it will keep for up to 30 days. You’ll know that flax meal has spoiled if it smells like oil paint.

These little brown seeds also make a great egg substitute. When flax seeds are blended with water, they develop a texture like egg whites. This slightly gummy substance can be used in place of eggs or egg whites in baked goods or as an excellent binder in meatless-loaves made from nuts, grains, and vegetables.

To replace one egg, grind about 1 tablespoons of flax seeds to a fine powder in a blender, spice mill, or food processor. Add 3 tablespoons of water and blend until slightly thickened, about a minute. If mixing by hand after grinding the seeds, whisk vigorously for a few minutes to thicken the mixture. This egg substitute is not suitable for recipes like souffl├ęs or sponge cakes.

Here is the recipe for the nutritious chutney. Enjoy it any way you like!

Flaxseed is high in fiber, so it’s important to increase water intake along with increased in flax intake.

AKSHI CHUTNEY

1 cup flax seeds
10-12 curry leaves
6-8 dried red chillies
Salt to taste

In a toaster oven place the seeds, curry leaves, and red chilies at 250 degrees for 10-12 minutes. You will get the nutty roasted aroma. Cool for 15 minutes and grind the seeds to the consistency of cornmeal in a coffee grinder. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator for one month.

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