Flax, is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is a food and fibre crop that is grown in cooler regions of the world.
Flax is amongst the oldest fiber crops in the world. It was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent region.
Flax is grown for its use as an edible oil, as a nutritional supplement, and as an ingredient in many wood finishing products. Flax is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens. Flax fibers are used to make linen. The Latin species name usitatissimum means most useful, pointing to the several traditional uses of the plant and their importance for human life.Flaxseed is commonly used to improve digestive health or relieve constipation. Flaxseed may also help lower total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol levels, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Flax seeds come in two basic varieties: 1. brown; and 2. yellow or golden (also known as golden linseeds). Most types have similar nutritional characteristics and equal numbers of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The exception is a type of yellow flax called solin, which has a completely different oil profile and is very low in omega-3 FAs. Although brown flax can be consumed as readily as yellow, and has been for thousands of years, it is better known as an ingredient in paints, fiber and cattle feed. Flax seeds produce a vegetable oil known as flaxseed or linseed oil, which is one of the oldest commercial oils, and solvent-processed flax seed oil has been used for centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing.
As in other oil seeds, flax too is one of the very high-calorie foods. 100 g of seeds contain 534 calories or 27% of daily-required levels. Further, the seeds are an excellent source of numerous health-benefiting nutrients, dietary fiber, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins that are essential for optimum health.
Flax seed is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid. It is also one of the top vegetable sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and arachidonic acids. Regular intake of small portions of flax seeds in the diet helps to lower total as well as LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increases HDL or “good cholesterol” levels in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet that is rich in fiber, monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids help to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
Flax seeds are perhaps one of the most widely available botanical sources of n-3 or (omega)-3 fatty acids. Flax seed oil consists of approximately 55% ALA (a-linolenic acid). One spoonful of flax seed oil provides about 8 g of omega-3 fatty acids. Research studies have suggested that n-3 fatty acids by their virtue of anti-inflammatory action help lower the risk of blood pressure, coronary artery disease, strokes and breast, colon and prostate cancers. Adequate quantities of n-3 oils are required for normal infant development and maturation of nervous system.
The seeds contain lignans, a class of phytoestrogens considered to have antioxidant and cancer preventing properties.
Flax are an excellent source of vitamin E, especially rich in gamma-tocopherol; containing about 20 g (133% of daily-recommended values) per 100 g. vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant, required for maintaining the integrity of cell membrane of mucus membranes and skin by protecting it from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
The seeds are packed with many important B-complex groups of vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, and folates. Thiamin is an essential co-factor for carbohydrate metabolism and helps prevent beri-beri disease. Folates help prevent neural tube defects in the fetus when consumed during pre-conception period and pregnancy.
Furthermore, flax seed is rich source of minerals like manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
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