Flaxseed and flaxseed oil have numerous health benefits for children and adults. As part of a balanced diet, flaxseed provides a rich source of the precursors to omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are good sources of dietary protein and fiber. In addition, they are versatile and available in several different forms, making it easy to incorporate flaxseed into many different recipes.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for children because they are critical for brain function, as well as normal growth and development. Omega-3s are incorporated into nerve cell membranes in the brain and the retina of the eye. Your child's body cannot produce these fatty acids so they must be obtained from her diet. In addition to cold-water fish, nut oils including flaxseed are sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Ground flaxseed provides alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, a building block for omega-3 fatty acids. Your child's body converts ALA to omega-3 fatty acids. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3. However, flaxseed would have to be consumed in much greater amounts to reach the levels of omega-3 provided by fish oil. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, fish is a preferable source since it provides omega-3 already in the form that your child's body needs. Therefore, the most effective way to boost omega-3 levels in children is through a fish oil supplement. Many brands make these available in pleasant flavors that appeal to children.
Protein and Fiber
One ounce or approximately 4 tbsp. of flaxseed meal provides about 6 g of protein, and 8 g of fiber. Some children and adults experience gastrointestinal symptoms when they add high fiber sources, such as flaxseeds, to their diet. Start with small amounts to reduce these symptoms.
Foods rich in omega-3s can help reduce the production of inflammatory prostaglandins. In some studies, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the severity of inflammatory disorders such as childhood asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headaches and osteoporosis. Flaxseeds are also one of the richest dietary sources of lignans, a class of phytoestrogens thought to help protect against breast, prostate and colon cancers.
Whole flaxseeds add a nutty flavor and crunchy texture to foods, but ground seeds are more easily digested. They can be sprinkled on salads or cereals. Flaxseed meal consists of preground flaxseeds. Dr. Sears recommends adding whole or ground flaxseeds to muffin or cookie batter or bread dough. Flaxseed oil should not be used for cooking, since it is not stable at high temperatures. It may be added to vegetables after cooking or used as a salad dressing. Flaxseed oil can also be added to a breakfast smoothie.
Flaxseed oil becomes rancid quickly, so buy small quantities at a time. Store the seeds or oil in the refrigerator in an opaque container and minimize exposure to light, heat and air. Use freshly ground seeds within a few days and discard any flaxseed that develops an unpleasant odor.