Flax is a versatile plant, with a variety of uses:
- Flax seeds are very nutritious – whether eaten whole, or used to make edible oil.
- Before the advent of cotton, flax fibres were used to make linen (they still are, but not so much nowadays).
- Flax seed oil is also used in other products, such as wood-finishing products.
Some interesting flax facts!
- Flax seeds come as golden, and brown varieties. Both are equally nutritious, but golden flax seeds are usually sold for human consumption while brown flax seeds are usually used as cattle feed.
- In some countries flax seeds are known as linseeds, and their oil as linseed oil.
- Flax will give a nutritional boost not only to your baby, but to your whole family – although you should speak with your doctor about eating flax yourself if you are pregnant. The effects of eating flax during pregnancy are still under investigation.
- Whole flax seeds contain more nutrients than flaxseed oil – which does contain essential fatty acids, but not many of the antioxidants, fibre and protein than whole seeds contain.
A great nutritional extra for your baby’s diet, flax seed is…
- Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids acids – these can help prevent inflammation, and so protect against asthma.
- Very rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – for healthy bone development.
- Full of antioxidants – believed to help protect the body against many types of cancer.
- A boost for the immune system, to help protect your baby against infection.
- Contains B vitamins, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and folates.
- Gluten-free – so it is safe to use if your baby has gluten intolerance or Coeliac disease.
- High in fibre and can both prevent and relieve constipation. (Too much, however, can cause diarrhoea, and be sure to give plenty of fluid – as breast milk, formula, or water if your baby is old enough – to prevent flax causing an obstruction in the bowel).
… and for adults…
- Omega-3 fatty acids acids in flax may help prevent against heart disease and arthritis.
- ALA is especially important for women as it is believed to promote ovulation and so achieve hormonal balance.
- If eaten throughout adulthood, flax may help lower cholesterol.
More about essential fatty acids.
Your baby’s body needs essential fatty acids for good health, but cannot make them – so foods containing these fatty acids must be regularly included in his or her diet. Omega-3 fatty acids acids are of particular importance to your baby’s growth, and flax seeds contain plenty of them!
When is it safe to give flax to your baby?
- Flax is not recommended as a first food for your baby, as it may cause tummy upsets – including wind (gas) and diarrhoea. It is best to delay until your baby is having a good variety of fruits and vegetables – usually at around 7 month of age.
- Always check with your baby’s doctor or paediatrician before introducing new foods, including flax.
Buying and storing flax…
- Flax seeds are usually sold whole or ground (milled), by good grocery stores and health-food shops – or they can be bought online.
- Whole seeds will last longer, are cheaper, and their nutrients remain intact because the inner seed is not exposed to light and air.
- If you buy whole seeds loose, rather than pre-packed, make sure that the container is hygienic, with a closely fitting lid, and that the shop is popular so stock sells quickly and is replaced frequently.
- Store whole seeds in a cool, dark place, and they’ll keep for up to 12 months.
- Pre-ground flax seeds can turn rancid in a few days if stored at room temperature, because their oil content is so high. Be sure to buy pre-ground seeds that are fresh – and they should be in the shop’s refrigerated section.
- Vacuum-packed ground seeds should be in opaque packaging – exposure to light leads to swifter deterioration and loss of nutrients.
- Buy whole flax seeds and use a coffee or spice grinder or a food processor to grind them freshly whenever you need them.
- Keep any ground flax seeds in an airtight container, in the refrigerator, for up to 30 days.
- A bitter taste means that the flax has gone rancid.
- Flax seed oil is highly perishable, so it should be in the refrigerated section of the shop, contained in an opaque bottle – flavour will deteriorate and nutrients be lost if it is exposed to heat and light.
Preparing flax seeds for your baby…
Whole seeds present a choking hazard, so flax seeds should be finely ground for your baby. Grinding the seeds also makes nutrients more available to your baby’s body, while whole seeds just pass straight through.
Introducing flax into your baby’s food…
- Flax has a mild, sweet, faintly nutty flavour which your baby is sure to enjoy.
- Use the 4-Day Rule when you introduce flax to be sure that it does not cause any problems.
- Use a tiny amount at first (half a teaspoon) and mix it with a food that your baby is already enjoying – if there are no digestive problems, increase the amount to a maximum of 2 to 3 teaspoons per day.
- Add a little ground flax seed to fruit or vegetable purees.
- Mix ground flax seed into your baby’s soups and stews.
- Add ground flax seed or a little flaxseed oil to smoothies.
- Sprinkle ground flax seeds on to soft, cooked vegetables and use them as finger foods.
- Use ground flax seed to top yogurt.
- Mix it with cottage, cream, or ricotta cheese, together with fresh herbs and pureed vegetables to make
- nutritious dips and spreads for toast or teething biscuits.
- When baking, use ground flax seed to replace up to 25% of the flour in a recipe.
- Stir ground flax seed into your baby’s cereal.
- Mix with breadcrumbs or oatmeal to use as a coating for breaded fish, chicken nuggets, etc.
- Use it instead of breadcrumbs as a binding agent for foods like patties, meatballs and meatloaf.
- Use it instead of egg as a binding agent by mixing 1Tbsp of ground flax seed with 3Tbsp of water.
- Because they contain oil, use ground flax seeds instead of oil or shortening in baking recipes (1 cup of ground flax seed can replace 1/3 of a cup of oil – though the food may brown more rapidly).
And for the rest of your family:
- Whole flax seeds can be added to the diet of other family members in homemade breads, muffins, etc., or sprinkled over salads – but they do need to be properly chewed to release their benefits.
- Flaxseed oil (linseed oil) can be added to foods – but it is NOT a cooking oil. It should be added to foods when they have been cooked.
This information presented to you acts as a guide which contains researched information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.
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