Benefits of Flax Seed

Five-generation farm provides consumer with a healthy way to lower cholesterol.
Florence C. Blake
January/February 2010
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Flax in the field.
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The property, three miles from the nearest neighbor and six miles from a town of 100, sits in the heart of the U.S. flax-producing region. John Stober’s great-great-grandfather homesteaded the North Dakota parcel in the early 1900s. Paul and Winnie Stober still occupy the home across the pasture from their son, John, and daughter-in-law, Stephanie. The younger couple currently runs the 1,200-acre family farm.

“John and I began as struggling farmers seeking creative new ways to make a living,” Stephanie says. “In 1999, we worked hand-in-hand to launch FLAX USA.

 “Although some of the earth’s finest flax had grown somewhere on our remote acreage for decades, we hadn’t yet discovered its outstanding qualities as a health food.”

That year, the Stobers delved into some serious research, learning of the plant’s uses beyond making linen fabric. Confectionary flax seed has been in existence for thousands of years: Hippocrates touted flax for the relief of intestinal discomfort; King Charlemagne passed laws ordering his subjects to consume flax seed; and Gandhi said: “Whenever flax seed becomes a regular food item among the people, there will be better health.”

The Stober family added such terms as omega-3 fatty acids, lignans and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA ) to their vocabulary. According to the Mayo Clinic, lignans bind to estrogen receptors in the body and may play a role in preventing certain cancers. Flax seeds are a rich source of lignans, which are also believed to benefit digestive and heart health.

Other nutrients present in relatively small servings of the seed include zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, silicon, copper, nickel, molybdenum, chromium, cobalt, the B-group vitamins, vitamin E and carotene.

In 2001, Stephanie and John began attending local craft shows to market their golden flax seeds. Over the years, their endeavors have expanded into a nationwide enterprise. John and Stephanie’s eldest son, Jared, a University of North Dakota graduate, recently entered the business as the family’s fifth generation. Having majored in marketing and entrepreneurship, Jared is now the firm’s national sales director. 

In the span of four years, the U.S. market value of flax swelled from about $100 million to more than $4 billion. As recently as 2008, flax was named one of the top eight Super Foods. 

According to current research from Cornell University, humans need about one and one-half grams of omega-3 fatty acids each day. Citing the body’s ability to absorb nutrients in fish, physicians have often recommended eating salmon to fulfill that dietary requirement. Considering the world’s population, that’s a lot of salmon.

In addition to environmental and supply concerns, how many busy Americans actually consume adequate portions of fish? If they could sprinkle a more flavorful topping onto their breakfast cereal, stir it into juice, or blend it into a smoothie, most probably would. Researchers have discovered that omega-3 fats play a role in reducing heart disease and joint pain. Also, they may enhance brain health, by lowering odds of depression and perhaps helping in memory retention.

Flaxseed tops the list among the available food sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Two tablespoons of ground flax contain 3.51 grams. Walnuts provide 2.27 grams in a quarter cup. Salmon has slightly more than 2 grams in 4 ounces. One cup of cooked soybeans offers 1 gram. Four ounces of halibut render slightly more than 1/2 gram; the same size serving of tofu gives just over 1/3 gram, as do 4 ounces of scallops.

The Stobers determined that a trademarked process they call Real Cold Milled™ is what increases the shelf life of the product.

“Longer shelf-stable flax is the result,” Stephanie says. “The processing doesn’t heat up the seed, interfering with its natural oil temperatures. Pure seed enters and exits the milling process at room temperature.” That processing ensures the milled flax’s shelf stability for 22 months.

The Stobers use North Dakota grown, natural golden flax seed in their products for human consumption. Just as nutritious, the brown seed now goes into food supplements for animals – Flaxy-cat, Flaxy-dog and Flaxy-horse. Demand for the products has grown enough that they now supplement their supply with the crops from neighboring farms.

Personal experience

In 1995, I first learned of my dangerously high cholesterol reading. My doctor recommended radical diet change. After faithfully adhering to the regimen for six months, I’d lowered my reading by just seven points, from 293 to 286.  

Several years, and disappointing blood tests later, I couldn’t get that level down. Another doctor prescribed niacin to no avail, then stronger medications, with frightening side effects.

One day a friend gave me a coffee grinder and whole flax seeds, suggesting I grind my own. The annoying chore of cleaning the sharp blades of the grinder made me an unlikely candidate for loyalty to that task. I tried flax oil capsules that tasted terrible, and fish oil, which – despite my doctor’s denials – left a miserable aftertaste. My readings spiked to the same old 293.

A coupon introduced me to the Stober farm’s already-ground flax. The next morning I started blending it in my daily rice milk smoothie. The next time I had lab tests, my physician’s office staff couldn’t believe the results. My cholesterol had dropped from 293 to 189.

The only side effects have been an improvement in my digestive system and my overall energy.

For more information on the Stobers’ farm, write Flax USA, 1661 Seventh St. NE, Goodrich, ND 58444, call toll-free 866-352-9872, or visit the website at www.FlaxUSA.com .

Learn More About Flax

Check out these websites for more information on flax and how to grow it.

The Herb Companion
www.HerbCompanion.com/Gardening/Flax-Growing-and-Processing.aspx 

North Dakota State University
www.Ag.NDSU.edu/agnic/flax/productioni.htm 

Heirloom Organics
www.Heirloom-Organics.com/guide/va/guidetogrowingflax.html 

Iowa State University Extension
www.Extension.IAState.edu/CropNews/2009/0407delate.htm 

Alternative Field Crops Manual
www.Hort.Purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/flax.html 

Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute
www.JeffersonInstitute.org/pubs/flax.shtml 

The Gardeners Network
www.GardenersNet.com/flower/flax.htm


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