Doctors have touted the benefits of flax for millennia. In fact, Hippocrates, the father of medicine himself, prescribed ground flax to treat ailments 2,500 years ago. Today, the seed is prized for its many vitamins and minerals, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, the essential polyunsaturated fats that may reduce the risk of heart disease. Flaxseed and ground flax, unlike the oil, are also rich in fiber and lignans, hormones thought to inhibit breast and prostate cancers.

In all its forms, flax is quite versatile -- and delicious. The oil, for example, can be mixed into salad dressings or tossed with vegetables. It shouldn't be cooked, however, because heat destroys its healthy properties. Flaxseed is grown in brown and golden varieties, both of which have a nutty flavor; the golden type, often used in baked goods, is a bit sweeter.

Because whole seeds are not as digestible as ground flax, many recipes call for the latter. You can buy the seeds whole and grind them yourself with a spice mill or coffee grinder, or buy them already ground (look for "flax meal" on the label). The meal's nutrients are easier for the body to absorb, but it also spoils more quickly. Store it in the freezer for up to a month; the seeds can be refrigerated for up to six months.

That gives you plenty of time to try our delicious recipes. Honey-flax granola and dense banana-walnut bread are perfect for breakfast or as a snack. Crisp herbed crackers and tofu fried rice have great texture, thanks to just a small amount of flaxseed. Indeed, it doesn't take much: A single serving each day will benefit you in ways even Hippocrates couldn't have imagined.

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