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Flax over soya

Flax over soya

In the West we've taken the traditionally eastern health food soya to heart - so much so that we may be over-doing it. But other foods provide soya's benefits without downsides, writes Roisin Armstrong

FOR many years soya has been promoted as a great source of phytoestrogens which have many health-giving properties. Some of the main benefits are: supporting women going through the menopause; protecting against hormone-led cancers including some breast, ovarian and prostate cancers; helping to prevent osteoporosis; helping protect against heart disease. However, soya products are being consumed in the West in a different way to the East. While the Japanese tend to stick to fermented soya products such as miso, natto and soy sauce, or with processed products, such as tofu, they only eat it in moderation, accompanied by other ingredients such as iodine-rich sea vegetables.

Westerners have adopted various soya and soya-based products as a substitute for a multitude of meat and dairy ingredients, eating them in much larger quantities than the Japanese would and on a more regular basis, which can be unhealthy. There is now a move to use other foods that contain, as soya does, chemical compounds called lignans, to offer these phytoestrogenic protections. These include whole-grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables that have been consistently associated with reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancers and other major health concerns. Obviously there are other nutrients and phytochemicals found in these foods which contribute to their

protective effects. In a study of 1,889 Finnish men followed for 12 years, those with the highest marker of plant lignan intake were significantly less likely to die from coronary heart or cardiovascular disease than those with the lowest levels.

Flax seeds are among the richest sources of plant lignans in the human diet. They are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and fibre. Four small clinical trials found that adding 30-50g/day of flaxseed to the usual diet for four to 12 weeks resulted in modest 8 to 14 per cent decreases in 'bad' cholesterol levels.

Studies have shown that women with high levels of lignans in their bodies, as measured from urine and/ or blood samples, have a reduced rate of breast cancer. In a recent French study conducted over seven years with 58,049 women participants concluded, "High dietary intakes of plant lignans were associated with reduced risks of breast cancer in a Western population that does not consume a diet rich in soy".

These findings could be important in the prevention of breast cancer. Lignans work in several ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer. They bind to oestrogen receptors, allowing naturally occurring oestrogen to have a place to act. They induce sex

hormone binding globulin which ties up more oestrogen. They are high in antioxidants which attack the free radicals that can be responsible for certain types of cancers. And they block the aromatase enzyme responsible for some production of oestrogen, which breast cancers need in order to grow.

Flaxseed hulls are high in fibre and lignans. Fibre is good for digestion, absorbing impurities and cleansing the colon as well as reducing the rate of colon cancer. If you are not already taking a lot of fibre try using flaxseed - you will see a definite increase in your stool size and frequency. You want to achieve a good bowel movement at least once a day. Any longer than that and you are holding toxins in your body, which is unhealthy.

Flaxseed is the richest source of mammalian lignan precursors, shown to decrease some early markers of colon cancer risk.

And here in the north we are lucky to have an excellent local producer of ground flaxseeds - Linwood's produce a range of products and are available in health food shops and some pharmacies and many of the supermarkets.