Friday, June 14, 2013

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Are flaxseeds still nutritious even after they are heated or baked?

While flaxseed oil should not be heated because it can easily oxidize, it seems that heat doesn't have the same effect on whole flaxseeds. Flaxseed oil features a high concentration of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and flaxseeds not only contain this omega-3 fatty acid but other important nutrients as well, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and lignan phytonutrients such as secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG).
Research studies have shown that the healthy omega-3 oils and lignan phytonutrients in flaxseeds are surprisingly heat stable. Not only is it safe to leave whole flaxseeds at room temperature but you can also use them in baking.
Studies testing the amount of omega-3 fat in baked goods indicate no significant breakdown or loss of beneficial fats occurs in baking. For example, in one study, the ALA content of muffins containing 25 grams of flaxseeds was not significantly reduced after baking. Researchers speculate that the omega-3 fats in flaxseed are resistant to heat because they are not isolated but rather are present in a matrix of other compounds that the flaxseeds contain, including the lignan phytonutrients that have antioxidant properties.
It's also worth pointing out that the temperatures used for baking were normal baking temperatures of 350°F (177°C) and higher—not specially lowered temperatures to see if the seeds needed lower heat to keep their ALA intact. Baking times were also normal—falling in the one to two hour range. In one study, the seeds were even exposed to a heat level of 660°F (349°C), apparently without damaging their ALA content.
The lignan phytonutrient SDG has also be found to be stable in its chemical structure when exposed to normal baking conditions. In one study, consumption of SDG-enriched muffins was found to enhance the production of mammalian lignans in women, reflecting their stability and bioavailability. In another study, women who ate raw, ground flaxseed daily for four weeks had similar plasma fatty acid profiles as those who ate milled flaxseed that had been baked in bread. Both groups of women showed a lowering of total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol, further reflecting that flaxseeds still have benefits when used in baked goods.
In addition to studies that have reviewed the effects of baking on flaxseeds, there are studies that have looked at the impact of other cooking methods. For example, a study found that ALA remained stable in cooked flaxseed-enriched pasta compared to the uncooked pasta.
Based upon this and other research on the subject, it seems that flaxseeds can deliver benefits whether they are consumed raw or incorporated into a baked good product.


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Cunnane SC, Hamadeh MJ, Liede AC, et al. Nutritional attributes of traditional flaxseed in healthy young adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 Jan;61(1):62-8.
Hallund J, Ravn-Haren G, et al. A lignan complex isolated from flaxseed does not affect plasma lipid concentrations or antioxidant capacity in healthy postmenopausal women. J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1):112-6.
Hyvarinen HK, Pihlava JM, et al. Effect of processing and storage on the stability of flaxseed lignan added to bakery products. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Jan 11;54(1):48-53.
Manthey FA, Lee RE, Hall CA 3rd. Processing and cooking effects on lipid content and stability of alpha-linolenic acid in spaghetti containing ground flaxseed. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Mar 13;50(6):1668-71.
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