Humans have been fond of oils and fats for thousands of years – not only as food but also as medicine and beauty nutrients. Fats and oils can be found in fruits, nuts and seeds as well as in foodstuff of livestock origin. It is only in the last few decades that they have received a bad reputation owing to their high calorie content, which I believe is absolutely unjust. Flaxseed oil is an excellent example for me to demonstrate the beneficial effects that oils can have on our health – added to which comes the magnificent taste of good quality, fresh flaxseed oil!
“This will do good to both body and soul” – my grandmother would say every time she put on the table one of our staple meals: potatoes boiled in skin served with cottage cheese and flaxseed oil. Well yes, in the old days, the golden colored oil extracted from the seeds of flax had its place practically on every table.
In East Germany, flaxseed oil is mixed in to dairy products such as cottage cheese, cucumber salad with sour cream or pickled herring with whipped cream. The covering oil layer protects the milk products from going sour, and people used to take advantage of this effect, especially in summer. In Upper Austrian cuisine, flaxseed oil is a traditionally used ingredient for making various foods; indeed, flaxseed oil is on the List of Traditional Groceries in Austria.
Freshly pressed flaxseed has a nice, walnutty taste and a fragrance slightly reminiscent of hay. Once it ages, however, it becomes somewhat tart. The reason why flaxseed oil ages fairly fast is that it has a lot of good fatty acids that are sensitive to oxygen. These are the omega-3 fatty acids, which can be best protected by being stored in a dark, non-translucent glass jar, refrigerated. Kept under these conditions, the oil can fully preserve its taste for several weeks.
The name “omega fatty acid” means the same as “unsaturated fatty acid”.
Why is flaxseed oil healthy?
Flaxseed oil has by far the highest omega-3 fatty acid content. The majority of its content is the triply unsaturated alpha-linolenic acid. It has been demonstrated by various research that this fatty acid can reduce inflammation, help blood coagulation and the widening of blood vessels. It can also regulate blood pressure and blood fat level, thus helping to prevent thrombosis, heart attack and stroke. In addition, it has been proven that the alpha-linolenic acid of flaxseed oil infiltrates into the cell membrane, and thus can be transformed into other important omega 3 fatty acids. Our brain, in particular, needs large quantities of good quality fats more than any other of our body organs. This means that our mental performance is also a major beneficiary of poly-unsaturated fatty acids. (source: J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry doi:10.1136/jnnp-2012-304792). In their recent evaluation of a comprehensive intervention study including as many as 13 600 participants, the German Association for Nutrition (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung – DGE) states that a high proportion of poly- unsaturated fatty acids combined with a low proportion of saturated fatty acids reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases (e.g. heart attack).
Applied externally, omega fatty acids can in the long run assist the functioning of the skin in cases such as psoriasis or eczema. Besides, flaxseed oil is rich in vitamin E, which – along with other anti-oxidants – supports the immune system. To make sure that flaxseed oil preserves its healthy traits for the longest possible time, it is best when pressed cold and native (i.e.free from any chemical preparation) and obtained from organic farming.
Healthy as they are, polyunsaturated fatty acids are not really suitable for cooking. As a result of heating, they undergo a transformation from liquid “cis” fatty acids into the so-called trans-fatty acids, which are sticky and rigid. And, unfortunately, these trans-fatty acids infiltrate in our cell membranes in the same way as good “cis” fatty acids do, obstructing the right functioning of cell membranes. Trans fats are therefore toxic and can cause cancerous diseases. All this means that flaxseed oil is to be consumed only cold or lukewarm, for instance in salad dressings as an ingredient of mayonnaise or in desserts.
Source: J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry doi:10.1136/jnnp-2012-304792