Flaxseed Oil

After yesterday’s post on flax seeds and the “whole” vs. “ground” debate, I realized I failed to even mention the “oil” option! I’ve talked about flaxseed oil once before briefly, but I thought I’d give a bit more detail on why many use it to enhance their health and balance.

When purchasing flaxseed oil, make sure you buy organic cold-pressed. This is the purest form and will have the most nutritional benefits. The oil is very rich in essential fatty acids, and many call it a “balanced” oil because it actually contains the building blocks for both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that flaxseed oil reduces the pain, swelling and inflammation of arthritis; lowers blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels; and even helps reduce the hardening effects of cholesterol on our cell membranes. Wow!

People who suffer from dry skin will really benefit from flaxseed oil. In addition, it can help people who have more serious skin issues such as psoriasis or eczema. It will help incorporate more essential fatty acids into the cell membranes, which improves the skin’s moisture greatly.

Some experts estimate that 80% of Americans are not obtaining enough essential fatty acids from their diets. While not surprising, this is significant because essential fatty acids are so crucial to protecting us from diseases such as cancer and heart disease, as well as countless more mild health issues. Some other ailments that can be improved with the use of flaxseed oil include autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, skin diseases, and more.

The best way to consume flaxseed oil is to add it to foods. While not stable enough to use for cooking, it works well in things like smoothies, salad dressings, pasta, or even as a dipping oil for bread (with some sea salt and pepper, of course!).

Have a great weekend!

Flax Seed: Whole or Ground?

People often ask me which type of flax seed they should be eating: whole or ground? My quick answer is to eat the ground flax seeds, because more of the fiber is absorbed. When whole seeds are consumed, they usually travel right through your digestive system and out into the toilet. But, I think a deeper explanation is needed.

First of all, why even eat flax seeds in the first place?

They are a great source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, magnesium, potassium and fiber, and a good source of B-vitamins, protein and zinc. Flax seeds are very low in calories. The best part? They’re so versatile! They have sort of a nutty flavor that can be mixed into water or juice; added to yogurt, smoothies, salads and cereals; and I even add ground flax seed into things I am baking for an extra dose of fiber.

The main difference between whole and ground flax seeds is the type of fiber you are getting. There are two main types of fiber – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel in the digestive tract. As it mixes with other fluids in your body, it expands and makes you feel full. Soluble fiber also slows down digestion, especially digestion of carbohydrates. This is why it is recommended for people with blood sugar issues or diabetes. By slowing digestion, it prevents severe spikes in blood sugar after carbs are eaten.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, but it binds to water and minerals. It feeds the healthy bacteria in the colon, and bulks up stools for healthier elimination. By aiding in bowel movements, insoluble fiber helps the body eliminate toxins more regularly and therefore keeps the internal environment healthier and more in balance.

The outer shell of a flax seed contains insoluble fiber, and the inside of the seed contains soluble fiber. Since insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, a whole seed will not break down inside of us. So, we get the benefits of the insoluble fiber but we simply eliminate the soluble fiber. Therefore, when the flax seeds are ground, we release the soluble fiber and can benefit from both types. However, if you are eating crackers or muffins that have whole flax seeds in them, it’s not a wasted effort. You’ll still benefit from the insoluble fiber.

You can buy whole flax seeds and grind them yourself at home, in a coffee grinder, blender or by hand. Or, you can take the easy route and purchase ground flax seed. Once the flax seed is ground, it needs to be refrigerated. Ground flax seed spoils quickly and will lose many of its nutritional benefits if not kept in the refrigerator or freezer.

I hope this helps! Even though many of us knew that ground flax seed was better than whole flax seeds, I think it’s important to understand the “why” behind the choices we make.


Corn Sugar

One of the perks of being publicly interested in health and nutrition is that people send me articles all of the time. While I try my hardest to stay on top of what’s going on NOW with nutrition, it definitely helps when things are sent my way! Yesterday my friend David sent me an article on high fructose corn syrup. Apparently the Corn Refiners Association, which is responsible for producing high fructose corn syrup, has submitted a request to the federal government to switch the name used on food labels from “high fructose corn syrup” to “corn sugar”.

Apparently high fructose corn syrup has gained enough negative publicity lately that American consumption of foods containing this product has fallen to a 20-year low. Many believe that high fructose corn syrup is hard for our body to process, and therefore is more likely than sugar or other sweeteners to be stored as body fat and eventually lead to obesity.

The biggest culprit is probably soda. Most non-diet soda is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and as we all know, kids, teens and adults all drink too much soda. It’s of course also used to sweeten many processed foods, including anything from baked goods to cereals. However, high fructose corn syrup is also found in foods you would not necessarily expect to find it in, such as breads, English muffins, and pretzels.

The president of the Corn Refiners Association says the new name will “help people understand the sweetener better.”

Hmmm. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t necessarily support producers trying to “trick” consumers on food labels. However, I strongly support consumers being proactive, educating themselves on what is in the food they are eating, and taking initiative when it comes to their diet, nutrition and health. So, consider this your education. Now you know that if you see “corn sugar” on a label, it’s just another name for high fructose corn syrup and you should make your decision about whether or not you’ll purchase the product accordingly.

This is just one more reason why I advocate a mostly whole foods-based diet. When you’re eating whole foods, you don’t have to worry about lengthy ingredient lists and foreign ingredients that may or may not live inside your body for the rest of your life, interfering with its natural balance. Whole foods taste better, inspire people to cook and get excited about what they are eating, and are undeniably healthier for you and your family.

A link to the full article can be found here. To read more about high fructose corn syrup and what it really does to your body and health, go here.


Recipe: Heirloom Tomato Soup

I hope you all enjoyed guest blogger Jessica’s post on heirloom tomatoes yesterday! If you missed it, be sure to go here to read it. Since many of us are still picking loads of tomatoes from our gardens, I wanted to share a recipe with all of you.

I spent Labor Day weekend with my family on one of Minnesota’s most beautiful lakes. Typically when we’re up at the lake, nutrition is not the main focus. Boat rides to Dairy Queen and glazed doughnuts from the local bakery make it hard to eat well! But, when my mom is there, I rest easy because she always makes nutrition a priority. And she didn’t let us down this year with her fresh cucumbers and peppers from her garden; homemade walnut pesto; homemade almond walnut butter; and heirloom tomato soup.

Not a bad place to spend a few days, right? The soup was welcomed because the weather was pretty chilly. I’d have to go on a morning run just to warm up enough to jump in the lake, and by lunchtime nothing sounded better than a warm bowl of homemade soup. She got the recipe from a Williams Sonoma catalog, and added a few of her own touches. It freezes well so make a big pot and enjoy it all throughout the fall and into winter!

Heirloom Tomato Soup

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup dry vermouth

2 lbs. juicy heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (I’d just keep the skin on because it’s easier and healthier)

2 tbs tomato paste

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tbs chopped fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives)

Above: My mom's heirlooms from one of her many harvests

In a Dutch oven or large pot, over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, fennel and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (about 10 minutes). Add vermouth and cook until evaporated. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to break down, 8-10 minutes. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blender (but wait until it’s cooled), or Vita-Mix, puree soup, leaving some chunks for texture. Season with sea salt and pepper. Stir in herbs just before serving. Serves 4.

I wish I had photos for you but I didn’t think of taking any last weekend. This soup seems really easy to make and absolutely every ingredient is PWN-approved! You can usually buy heirlooms at a local health food store if you don’t have any in your garden. Regular tomatoes will work too – just don’t tell Jessica!


Guest Blogger Jessica: Will Brake for Heirlooms

Remember Jessica? And how much you all loved her? Well, she's back. And she's just in time for tomato season, so pay attention! If you missed her first guest blog on raw honey, you must read it here!

From Jessica...

Tomatoes have been abused. Like other widely utilized fruits and vegetables, they were bound to lose a little bit of their integrity as production increased. With so many fruits and vegetables available during any season, we’ve gotten used the bland, hybridized taste. But a carrot is not a carrot. After buying baby carrots I was shocked to uncover the flavor underneath the peel of a true, out of the earth carrot. The first time I had a strawberry from the farm near my house, I nearly cried. I saw Jesus. I figured out the meaning of life. I started yelling ecstatically in Spanish, and I don’t know Spanish. It was that good that I’d curse about it but I don’t know if that is kosher by PWN standards.

The point is that tomatoes tend to fall in one of the top spots on eater’s dislike list, and I can understand why. That scarlet red, perfectly round tomato from the grocery store that ends up sliced into mealy, tasteless wedges systematically tossed onto salads or slapped onto sandwiches is no all-star. I could never eat one of these tomatoes plain unless I had copious amounts of mozzarella or ranch dressing. This kind of tomato is the American cheese of cheeses, the baby carrot of carrots, the iceberg lettuce of salads. It is “roughing it” in the food sense. They can work for convenience, but when it counts… people please, hold yourself to higher standards!


The Cadillac of tomatoes I’ve come to worship is the heirloom tomato. I reckon even a tomato-hater could eat a salted wedge of an heirloom and pronounce it delicious. I generally mistrust people that eat tomatoes like apples (or string cheese like hot dogs, for that matter) but the taste profile here is so much greater that I actually may acquiesce.

To be classified as heirloom, a plant must be “open pollinated” meaning its seeds will produce plants similar to the parent. While that sounds obvious, the truth is that many typical grocery store bought tomatoes are intentionally bred to be sterile so that consumers must continue to buy seeds every year. That means when you give little Jimmy down the street a tomato to plant and grow his own tomato vine, Jimmy is going to be sorely disappointed when it never comes to fruition. And likely buy his own hybridized tomatoes to throw at your house if he’s anything like the little Jimmy that lived on my street.

Heirloom seeds can be saved and passed around, and cannot be patented like hybrids and GMOs. Some have really awesome Indian names like Cherokee Purple or Fast Horse. Okay, fast horse was actually my Indian name in kindergarten. But Black Bear and Goliath are other actual varietal names.

Hotcha Hotcha, lookin good

You’ve probably seen these oddly shaped and colored beauties at the farmers market or seasonally in grocery stores. With their varying shapes and different washes and fades of color they look like works of art. I willingly admit to having photographed them to be my phone background. I will not as willingly admit to the altercation I got into when I overheard two women calling them ugly tomatoes at the farmers market, when clearly the only thing ugly was their ignorance of food politics.

This brings me to the reason to eat heirlooms aside from their superior flavor. By buying these tomatoes you help keep certain varietals in existence. There are heirloom tomatoes that date back to the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears!! Do you hear the frantic urgency here! You can be taking a bite out of history! Which metaphorically sounds a bit dustier and not as delicious as intended. It is important to keep these strains alive because our modified, hybridized tomatoes have not been around very long. They are all genetically similar. If an insect or disease evolved that affected these tomatoes, it could wipe out the entire crop. Heirlooms have survived the years being exposed to varying conditions and thereby developing different genetic makeups, so it is unlikely one disease would affect all of them.

Look kids it’s heaven! Or an heirloom tomato tasting.

There are other heirloom plants besides tomatoes. Some examples include certain beans, blue corn, and Forbidden rice (which is the crazy black rice that does actually get sold under that name).

We end this broadcast with…tomato fight!!!

Thank you SO much Jessica for educating and entertaining us! Please come back and guest blog again soon!