Rowena Hoseason has studied the science of nutrition and obesity for over a decade. She’s successfully put into practice the positive behaviours which help to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke and many other long-term illnesses in older people. Rowena applies the scientific evidence she researched during her BSc in Health Sciences to everyday situations. So her advice isn't just a collection of technical theories from a skinny someone who’s never looked a cream cake in the eye! Her suggestions come from hard-won real-world experience, from someone who’s lived through significant weight gain and health issues, and who knows just how it feels to turn down that slice of Victoria sponge. This is what she has to say about the health benefits of Linseed...
If you’re concerned about heart health, arthritis or cognitive decline, then you may well have seen recommendations to eat more polyunsaturated fats, especially the ‘omega’ fats found in oily fish. Which is really useful… unless you don’t like fish! Even if you do eat fish, it can be tricky and expensive to eat enough of the right kind enriched with the correct type of oil – especially as farmed fish tends to be lower in key nutrients than wild fish. Many of the nutritionally ideal ‘oily fish’ are the little tiddlers, full of bony bits, and not the sort that you find battered with chips…
Happily, there is a practical vegetarian alternative which requires zero preparation and is extremely easy to incorporate into your diet. It’s linseed (also known as flaxseed) which you’ll find at any health food shops and lots of supermarkets.
Linseed is very rich in omega-3 oils and is one of the few veggie sources of these oils. In evolutionary history, humans used to eat tonnes more little fish than we do now, and we ate a balanced mix of omega-3 and omega-6. These days, we eat much more meat and saturated fats, and even the great sources of unsaturated fats (like rapeseed or olive oil) tend to be very high in omega-6. So the balance of ‘omegas’ is way out of whack in modern humans, and this has significant health implications.
Unsaturated fats are hugely important for almost all of our body’s systems, but especially for coronary health, our immune responses and neurological wellbeing. Too much of the wrong sort of fats contributes to congested arteries (cardiovascular disease) and inflammation (arthritis and other conditions), and may well be a factor in cognitive decline.
Linseed has an extra benefit because it’s also very high fibre, much like bran. Almost everyone could do with a bit more fibre in their daily diet, to improve gut health, help regulate blood glucose levels (especially useful if you have Type 2 diabetes), and keep you feeling fuller for longer (really handy if you want to stop snacking!)
Couldn’t be easier. Don’t cook linseed because that affects the omega-3 oils we’re trying to eat. Instead, add a dessert-sized spoonful of crushed or milled linseed to:
Breakfast cereal or granola
You get the picture – almost anything! With hot foods, just stir the linseed in a couple of minutes before you serve. With cold foods, it adds extra crunch.
You can also use linseed oil in salad dressing – but don’t cook with it, as it has a very low flash point (rapeseed oil is best for cooking).
Remember that linseed is a high-fibre food, so if you add a spoonful to your daily diet then you also need to add an extra glass of water or a cup of fruit tea. If you are sensitive to high fibre foods then add a tiny little bit to start with, and see how your body responds. You can work up to two dessert-size spoonfuls a day, and that should really help your overall health.
Remember that linseed is full of fats, so is quite calorific. This means you’ll need to use it to replace something in your daily diet – don’t just add the extra calories unless you’re trying to gain weight! It’s a great replacement for those afternoon snacks…
Linseed is very perishable so check use-by dates, store it in a dark placed in an airtight container, and use it relatively quickly. It should not taste bitter – if it does then it’s gone off. Crushed and milled linseed doesn’t last as long as whole linseed, but it does need to be a bit bashed about when you eat it, so your body can access the nutrients inside.
There are several sorts of linseed, and there’s little nutritional difference between them. But they taste slightly different, so you might like to experiment.
Rowena is a voracious reader; a professional writer, editor and publisher, a keen outdoor swimmer and a lifelong motorcycle rider. She sold her first story aged 17 and hasn’t stopped scribbling since. Together with her partner, Frank Westworth, she launched the vintage motorcycle magazine RealClassic in 2005, and the crime-thriller site Murder Mayhem and More in 2014.