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Flaxseed, Frozen Yogurt, and Red Bell Peppers: Your Nutrition Questions Answered

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Are flaxseeds really necessary in your diet? Is frozen yogurt just as nutritious as regular yogurt? And do red bell peppers offer more benefits than the other peppers? Find out here.

Flaxseeds

There is a never-ending stream of nutrition questions. So we looked to a few of our expert sources to find answers about whether flaxseeds matter, why red peppers may be better than others, and if frozen yogurt is just plain old dessert.

What are flaxseeds? Why have they received such attention from health food advocates? And are they really necessary in our diet?

Fact: Flaxseeds (aka linseeds) are about the size of sesame seeds and come from the flax plant, a blue-flowering member of the Linaceae family that is grown largely in Canada, China, and the United States. "Various parts of the plants have been used for centuries to make fabric and cloth and for other household and industrial purposes -- for example, linseed oil used by painters comes from flax plants," says Marian L. Neuhouser, PhD, RD, nutrition researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

"The lignans in flaxseeds produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins that help to reduce the inflammation that may be associated with asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, and migraine headaches. The nutrient benefits have been shown to reduce risk for diabetes, reduce blood cholesterol levels, control blood sugar and insulin levels, and promote gastro-intestinal health," adds Neuhouser.

The seeds are brimming with nutrients (including protein, iron, phosphorous, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin E), all packed into a small and quite tasty little seed, says Janet Brill, PhD, RD, author of Cholesterol DOWN (Three Rivers, 2006). Specifically, flaxseeds are a good food source of fiber, manganese, magnesium, and antioxidants. They may be consumed in the form of ground flaxseed meal or as flaxseed oil. Flaxseed meal contains more fiber and phytochemicals than flaxseed oil, but the oil is higher in omega-3 fatty acids than the meal.

They have a hard outer coating and need to be ground into meal to allow their nutrients to become more bio-available to the body. This may be accomplished easily using a simple household coffee grinder. Whole flaxseeds pass through the gastrointestinal tract intact and have a laxative effect on the body, says Anne VanBeber, PhD, RD, LD, associate professor and chair of the department of nutritional sciences at Texas Christian University.

Fiction: That the omega-3 fats in flaxseeds have the same health benefits as the omega-3 fats in fish, says Jodi (Citrin) Greebel, a registered dietitian in New York City and the president of Citrition, LLC.

Concerns: The primary health benefit is purported to be the relatively high content of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) -- a type of omega-3 fatty acid. "Consumers need to be a little cautious, though, because the body is relatively slow and inefficient at converting ALA, which has 18 carbons, to the longer chain EPA and DHA, which have the real health benefits of increasing immune function, lowering inflammation, and providing heart and circulatory benefits," says Neuhouser. "Flaxseeds should not be used as the sole dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Cold-water fish, such as salmon, contain higher levels of EPA and DHA," adds VanBeber.

Additionally, according to Neuhouser we need to be wary of overconsumption, because flaxseeds can have a laxative effect, resulting in diarrhea.

Bottom Line: Including flaxseeds in the diet is a good way to work toward achieving the desired 1:2 ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids in the body. The average American diet results in a ratio of between 1:2 and 1:5. A lower omega-3:omega-6 ratio is associated with reduced risk of chronic disease, explains VanBeber.

Next:  Red Bell Peppers

 

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