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.

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Keeping cool: Foods to refrigerate

I thought that it would be fitting to follow-up yesterday’s post with information on a few foods that should be refrigerated, but often aren’t:

  • Peanut butter – this applies to natural peanut butter, and other nut and seed butters such as almond butter and tahini, after opening. 
  • Nuts and seeds – this includes milled flax seed. You can keep these in either the fridge or the freezer. Because of their high unsaturated fat content they’ll go rancid more quickly if stored at room temperature and/or in light. Nut and seed oils such as sesame oil and walnut oil should also be refrigerated after opening. Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place but doesn’t need to be refrigerated unless you go through it very slowly.
  • Maple syrup – despite the high sugar content, opened maple syrup is susceptible to mould growth if not stored in the fridge. The same applies to jam and molasses.
  • Eggs – If you’ve ever been to England (or many other countries outside of North America) you may have noticed that they don’t refrigerate their eggs. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you can store your eggs on the countertop in Canada or the US. Because our eggs are power washed before they’re sold the porous shell becomes exposed and susceptible to contamination so, unless you’re buying unwashed eggs directly from a farmer (or have your own laying hens) you’ll need to keep your eggs in the fridge.

Where you store items in your fridge is another issue. Make sure that foods that are most likely to go “off” are stored towards the back (e.g. milk, butter, meat, tofu). Keep condiments and beverages that are less susceptible to deterioration or contamination on the door. Store meat, fish, and poultry on the bottom shelf to ensure that their juices don’t drip down and contaminate other foods. Keep fruit and vegetables in separate drawers as the gases emitted by some fruits can be detrimental to the flavour and lifespan of your vegetables.

Ideally, you should keep a thermometer in your fridge and ensure that the temperature never exceeds 4C.

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Foods not to refrigerate

I won’t tell you my inspiration for this post (to protect the guilty). Suffice to say, I’m always looking for new blog material so really they did me a favour.

Unsure about what foods to refrigerate? Here are a few that you shouldn’t refrigerate:

  • Bananas – as my old prof, Dr Kwan, used to say, refrigeration will cause “chill injury”. Bananas will turn black in the refrigerator. While this will not immediately impact the flesh, it’s none too appealing.
  • Basil – also susceptible to chill injury it will blacken and wilt prematurely if stored in the fridge.
  • Tomatoes – refrigeration will cause them to become mealy.
  • Potatoes – refrigeration affects the starch molecules in potatoes causing them to convert to more simple sugars and affecting the way they’ll cook and taste. Store in a cool dark place, in a breathable bag. Exposure to direct light can cause them to sprout faster and also to develop the toxin solanine.
  • Garlic – it will go soft faster in the fridge. Store in a similar manner to potatoes.
  • Squash – winter squash has a longer shelf life outside of the fridge. Summer squash, such as zucchini, is also susceptible to chill injury and is best stored on the countertop.

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Keeping it fresh

I find I’m often waging a losing battle in an effort to use up all my fresh salad greens before they wilt and turn slimy. I have found one trick that helps prolong the life span of salad greens. I fold-up a piece of paper towel, run it under cold water, wring it out, and chuck it in the bag or container of greens and then toss it in the crisper. I also recommend not purchasing the bagged salad greens at the grocery store. There’s no way to know how long it’s been since they were picked and they inevitably go off before the expiration date. If you can’t grow your own, get them from your local farmers’ market.