Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Whole vs ground flax seed


I was recently told that flax seed goes rancid pretty much immediately after grinding. This took me a bit by surprise and also made me question my consistent advice to people to buy ground flax as we can’t obtain the nutritional benefits (i.e. healthy fats and both soluble and insoluble fibre) from whole flax seed. I did a little googling and the consensus is that ground flax will stay fresh for up to four months in an airtight container in either the fridge or the freezer.

Okay, so four months isn’t exactly instantaneous but, when you think about it that store-bought ground flax would have been stored in at least one warehouse before making its way to the grocery store shelf and then it would be sitting on the shelf for x amount of time before you bought it and brought it home. Provided it’s in a vacuum-sealed opaque package it will stay fresh for a couple of months but not knowing how long it’s been since it was processed, and not being one to use-up an entire package of ground flax immediately upon purchase, I’m not sure that I will be buying ground flax seed any longer.

Whole flax seed, on the other hand, will stay fresh for several years at room temperature. This means that my new and improved advice is to purchase whole flax seed and grind it yourself. You can use a food processor or a coffee grinder or one of those hi-tech blenders. Grind only as much as you need at a time or, if you grind extra, ensure that you store it in the fridge or freezer in an opaque, airtight container for no more than four months.


Flax seed, the new egg

I don’t know about you but I often find myself about to make a recipe, usually cookies or muffins only to discover I don’t have any eggs. Fortunately, from my brief foray into veganism I’ve found a great substitute. You just have to make sure that you always have flax meal (aka ground flax seed) on hand.

To make the equivalent of one egg using flax meal, mix one tablespoon of flax with three tablespoons of warm water. Leave to form a gel for a few minutes. Use in recipe as you would use actual eggs. To avoid adding colour to your recipe you may want to use golden flax rather than brown flax.

Flax has a high polyunsaturated oil content which means that it can go rancid with exposure to light or heat. Once you’ve opened your flax you should store it in the fridge or freezer to keep it fresh for longer. It’s also true what you’ve heard about whole flax seeds; they’ll go right through you. If you want to obtain the nutritional benefits of flax you should always use milled flax.

Two tablespoons of milled flax contains about 65 calories, 6 grams of fat (3.5 g omega-3, 1.0 g omega-6, and 1 g monounsaturated), 4 g of fibre, and 3 g of protein. While not a major source of the omega-3 fatty acids that we need the most (i.e. DHA and EPA) we can convert some of the ALA (the type of fatty acid predominant in flax) into EPA and DHA. Our ability to convert ALA is not hugely efficient though so if you are consuming a vegan, or strict vegetarian diet, you should consider adding other sources of these essential fatty acids (such as sea vegetables and micro-algae) to your diet.