The danger of baking with flax seeds

Update: March 2014

I wanted to update this post to reflect some new learnings, many of which were brought to light by my kind readers in the comments. Some studies on the effects of baking with flaxseed show that the whole flaxseed is heat stable when used in baking.

I initially wrote this post when I was in the throes of nutrition school. I was totally overwhelmed by new, exciting and terrifying information, and overly enthusiastic to share (and preach a l’il bit) to others. Three years later, I’ve learned to distinguish between the bad, the not-so-bad, the okay, the good and the freaking great. I’ve cultivated mindfulness and balance (practices I’m working on every day!). 

Honestly, I still don’t use flaxgel in my baking, but this is due to habit now. If you’d like to use flaxgel, I don’t think it’s the end of the world. Happy baking!

Flax gel is a common substitute for eggs in vegan baking. I use it constantly in recipes like my tried-and-true sunflower flax bread (pictured above) and my new obsession, grain and vegetable crackers.

I thought using ground flax would add an extra boost of nutrition to my baked goods. Until I learned that it doesn’t. Frak!

Let me break it down for you:

Flax seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which happen to be very good for us in their raw, unprocessed form. Unfortunately, the chemical nature of omega 3s render them extremely sensitive to heat, light and air.

Heating ground flax seeds results in a loss of nutrients and – here’s the sucky part – creates free radicals. Pesky free radicals damage our cells, reduce our immunity and leave us susceptible to disease. Um, no thank you.

So after sharing countless recipes that include ground flax seed, what can I say?

I’m sorry I didn’t know this earlier. And I feel very grateful to be studying holistic nutrition, where I’m learning so much about the impact of food on our bodies.

Can all those recipes be salvaged? I think so. Instead of flax, I’ll try egg replacer powder, applesauce, bananas or tofu. I may have to play around with some of the other ingredients, but it’s a small price to pay for my health.

Was I the only one in the dark about this? Does this information surprise you, or was I just the last one to know?

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43 Responses to The danger of baking with flax seeds

  1. Veronica February 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I had no idea! Does it do the same if you use whole flax seeds instead of ground? I just made some banana pancakes with whole flax seeds in them, feeling very wholesome for it, but I think I’ll have to sprinkle them over my oatmeal instead.

    • Sondi Bruner February 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

      I would stick to sprinkling them over your oatmeal. Whole flax seeds aren’t digested very easily, they tend to go right through you – which doesn’t give you much nutritional benefit. However, I did learn you can still use whole, raw nuts and seeds in baking – in the whole form, nuts have more natural protection, plus whatever batter they’re in helps protect them too. Thank goodness for the Institute of Holistic Nutrition! I’m learning so much there.

    • sharon February 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      Thank you for confirming my inclination not to use flax in baked goods. Are you familiar with chia seeds? They are also used as a thickener and are used to replace eggs in baking. Do you know if the baking/ heating process has the same effect on chia seeds as it does on flax? Thank you.

      • Sondi March 2, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

        Hi Sharon, yes I love chia seeds! Chia is also high in delicate omega-3 fats, and it probably undergoes a similar effect once heated in baking. However, thank you for reminding me that I need to update this post. Based on research (many of it linked in the comments here), I’ve released some of my restrictions around flax. I still don’t use it in my baking (force of habit), but I will use it occasionally when a recipe calls for it. In the grand scheme of things, the flax/chia doesn’t get damaged too much, and if we have it in small amounts and focus on eating nutrient-rich plants, we’ll all be okay.

  2. Marina February 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention! I usually use egg replacer powder, rather than flax gel, in baking. I figured flax was the healthier way! I knew you weren’t supposed to heat flax oil…and I had heard the same recently about olive oil for the very same reasons you mention, the free radicals. I’ve moved mainly to other types of oils for cooking now, and save olive oil for other things. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, what with there being so much to know!

    • Sondi Bruner February 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

      Oh yes, it’s definitely overwhelming! Basically, the best oils/fats to cook with are coconut, oil, butter or ghee. All other oils (other than coconut) should never be heated. This has really changed the way I think – and will change the way I cook.

  3. India-leigh February 4, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    Nooo! i love baking my flax bread! Thanks for sharing Sondi, gosh I’d never of thought that. I guess the whole RAW thing is where the SMART people eat. But it is all about balance.. too much stress and anxiety are not the body’s best friend either.

    What is egg replacer made from?

    Thanks Sondi.

    • Sondi Bruner February 4, 2011 at 9:51 am #

      I know, I was devastated too! I’m trying to eat more raw, but I do love my baked goods. I’ve been more conscious of what I put in them, and I’ve been baking at lower temperatures. Store bought egg replacer generally has some sort of starch – tapioca, potato, arrowroot – a leavener and a few other things. It never occurred to me to make my own – I’ve included a link to a recipe in my post that I will be trying next time.

  4. Julie February 4, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Flax is still an incredible food. You can grind it and sprinkle some in a breakfast smoothie. It’ll make it really thick. It’s also got lots of fibre.

    • Sondi Bruner February 4, 2011 at 11:32 am #

      Oh yes, flax is an amazing food to eat – full of fibre and omega 3s. I’m not suggesting people stop eating it, just that they stop baking with it. I put it in smoothies too, and oatmeal or salads. Flax oil is great too, though I find flax seeds to be cheaper.

  5. Natalie February 4, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Hmm. Clearly the people at Cooking Light magazine don’t know this because they often include ground flax in their breads (esp. banana breads) supposedly as a nutritional boost.

  6. Sarah (Flavoropolis) February 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Hm, a very interesting point. Something I’ve been trying not to think about because I love baking with flax. I completely agree with you though. Time to reevaluate some recipes!

  7. Jenn February 12, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    I’m not a nutritionist nor a doctor so don’t take my word on this, but I know that free radicals are by nature really fast acting and thus quite short lived (many hang around for orders of magnitude less than a second). If free radicals are created in the baking process, my first inclination is that they would react with something else in the dough long before it finished baking and got eaten. And if that didn’t take care of them, I would think they would not survive digestion.

    My guess is that degradation of the omega 3s during the baking process just means that you don’t get all of the health benefits normally attributed to omega 3s. But like I said, I am not an expert in this field so I could be wrong.

    Ground flax seed has great binding properties to act as an egg replacer in baked goods for those who do eat eggs. I do not think their only use is for a nutritional boost, so I see cooking magazines using ground flax seed instead of eggs in their recipes in order to make their food more allergy friendly.

    • Sondi Bruner February 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

      Hi Jenn, thanks for your comment. I’m no nutritionist either – I’ve only been at school for a month! You are a scientist, so you likely know far more than I do about the nature of free radicals. Free radicals are very chemically reactive, though I’m a little skeptical that they would interact and be neutralized by something else in the dough. You’re right that they may be taken care of during digestion, with the help of antioxidants, which is why eating foods that contain antioxidants are so important.

      I just think there are so many free radicals out there – chemicals in our food, environmental toxins, etc – and many people don’t consume enough antioxidants in the first place (myself included), which makes us more susceptible to damage from free radicals.

      I’m simply not keen on creating any more free radicals in my body than I need to. This is definitely going to impact my baking, as I have hugely relied on flax gel as a replacement for eggs. Experimentation awaits me…

  8. SG June 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I am sure there
    will be more studies “proving” omega 3′s are very healthy when used in baking – the benefits outweigh the risks.

    There are always studies proving or disproving something!
    I believe “moderation” is the key to a healthy life.

  9. Saskia C. February 4, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Hi – you mentioned that only coconut oil / butter / ghee should be heated (to temperatures as high as those required for baking) — but I’ve also read that rice bran oil and macadamia oils have high smoking points and are great for cooking. Do you have any experience with those oils, and/or know if they’re in fact safe or just still under-researched? Thanks!

    • Sondi Bruner February 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      Great question! I don’t know too much about macadamia or rice bran oils. I like cooking with fats that are solid at room temperature (ie coconut oil), as those are more stable oils. The other issue is just because an oil has a high smoke point, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t turn rancid or produce free radicals before that point. I actually mostly use water now when I’m cooking things on the stove, and I’ve had no problems with taste or difference in the overall cooking process.

  10. Danielle Haskell February 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Do you have a resource to support this assertion? I would like to read more. Thank you!

  11. hanna April 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    Do you use chia eggs? does the same happen to them?

    • Sondi Bruner April 22, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      Yep, chia is also high in omega 3s so it is very susceptible to heat, light and air. I do use chia eggs on the rare occasion. For me, the issue was I was using flax eggs ALL the time, and it was too much. Once in awhile in small amounts I think is ok.

  12. carolrossborough July 20, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    Reading all the comments, and taking in a few more articles I’m going with ‘safe for baking’… WHF article told me all I need to know about stablisation of omega 3′s in flaxseed during heat due to the matrix of other antioxidants surrounding it. http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=18

  13. Eselpee August 30, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    “I actually mostly use water now when I’m cooking things on the stove, and I’ve had no problems with taste or difference in the overall cooking process.”

    Water is good, but also (depending on what is being sauted) try broth and balsamic vinegar. A balsamic vinegar reduction is an amazing flavor for veggies, etc. I think it must fall under “umami” – but I am soooo off topic!

    • Sondi Bruner August 30, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      I usually use water, but broth and vinegar are great ideas too! Thanks for the idea.

  14. Maple October 12, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Sondi, Where did you find that information that Flax seed gel can cause free radical damage? I cannot find anything to substantiate your claim and worry.
    I understand that cooking the flax oil at a high temperature can cause the free radicals. We would like to clear this misinformation up if it is that.
    Thanks,
    Maple

    • Sondi Bruner October 15, 2012 at 10:02 am #

      Hi Maple,

      Omega 3 fats are very sensitive to heat, light and air. When flax seeds are ground and heated in baking, this creates free radicals. More info about omegas can be found here: http://udoerasmus.com/products/oil_blend_en.htm.

      As you can see from the comments on this post, not everyone agrees that the free radicals created by using flax in baking is dangerous. It’s up to each person to decide what their comfort level is.

      I used to use flax a lot in baking. Pretty much every recipe I had used it. And I think this is just way to much for my own piece of mind. In the last couple of years, I have been exploring baking without flax seeds and it’s been going really well.

      Using flax or chia as a binder every once in awhile is not going to hurt me. But I’m not comfortable using them all the time. That has been my conclusion, based on what I’ve learned and the research I’ve done. And I encourage everyone to decide what they feel is best for them.

      I hope that answers your question!

  15. Linda October 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    I always question information if it comes from a group that is real negative about things that no one else has information about. Moderation is underestimated. People seem to love extremes about everything lately – negative and positive. My only concern about flax is that it contains small amounts of arsenic and a quarter cup a day should be the limit. In a normal diet no one would eat more than that. The people who think that if a little is good, a lot is better…should just consider eating normally and don’t get caught up in the hype about stuff. Face it, in a few short years all the informations changes anyway.

  16. GC November 22, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    “…the omega-3 in ground flaxseeds have been shown to remain unaffected when exposed to temperatures of up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, as part of a muffin mix, for two hours.” – http://www.livestrong.com/article/394798-can-we-cook-ground-flaxseed/#ixzz2Cy7VkSyH

    • Sondi Bruner November 22, 2012 at 8:45 am #

      Interesting! Thanks for sharing this piece of research. I took at look at some of the original studies – and many of them are from the early 90s. I wonder, though, if the information still stands 20 years later? Just a thought!

  17. Ray December 27, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    I have googled about baking with ground flax seeds. Most said that they don’t entirely lose their nutrients.

  18. Chaos January 7, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Here (http://www.flaxhealth.com/storage.htm) is another source you can reference, specifically this part:

    ALA in whole and milled flaxseed also appears to be stable to heat equal or greater than the temperatures involved in baking batters and doughs such as muffins and yeast bread. Thermal stability was shown in 1992 by the absence of significant changes in peroxide values and fatty acid composition when both forms of flaxseed were heated for 60 minutes at either 100°C (212°F) or 350°C (662°F). Furthermore, gas liquid chromatography showed no signs of new trans isomers of ALA or of cyclic fatty acid formation in samples subjected to these degrees of heat5. In a follow-up study the proportion of ALA in the fat of a muffin mix, where 28.5% of the formula was milled flaxseed, was virtually unchanged after baking at 178°C (350°F) for 2h (45.1% ALA before:45.0% after). This stability was observed even though oxygen consumption of the flaxseed muffin mix was considerably greater than that of the control muffin mix6. A subsequent study confirmed the stability of ALA in baked muffins containing the same amount of milled flaxseed and noted that thiobarbituric acid values, as estimates of ALA oxidation were also unaffected by baking9.

    Biological evidence also supports the stability of ALA to baking temperatures. Nine college women included 50g flaxseed in their daily diet for four weeks in one of two ways. Five of them added milled flaxseed, uncooked, to the food of their choice such as breakfast cereal, soup, juice or yogurt. The other four consumed bread baked with milled flaxseed (250g/kg) rather than their usual bread. Plasma fatty acid profiles during the four-week study were not significantly different between the women eating raw milled flaxseed and those eating the same amount of flaxseed baked in bread. Both subject groups exhibited a lowering of serum total cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol10. The implication is that baking had no effect on the bioavailability of flaxseed fatty acids.
    Lignans

    • Maple January 7, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

      Glad to hear the good news on baking with flaxseed….

  19. Hannah April 2, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=18

    do your research properly

  20. Rafael June 30, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    There is ample research that shows that you can actually cook and bake with flax seeds. Unlike the oil, the seed seems to be resistant to heat.

    http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=18

  21. Jade July 19, 2013 at 2:06 am #

    http://www.flaxrd.com/Documents/Flax%20Stability.pdf

    I have also come across this that mentioned that the high heat do not really change the property of milled flax seeds. The study was some times back. Hope that there will be more updates though.

  22. Darlene August 12, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    I wonder if there is any effect when you use toasted, ground flaxseed? I get it at Trader Joe’s and put it in my smoothie almost every morning!!

  23. Rebecca August 22, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    I read online that 1/4 cup chickpea/garbanzo bean flour plus 1/4 cup water has even better egg substitute properties than flax eggs. Chickpea flour is sold in Indian markets as besan or gram flour. You can also grind your own from dry chickpeas. I haven’t tried it yet. I’m going to soak and sprout some chickpeas and try it with those.

  24. Heather Curtis September 29, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Recently been looking more into unrefined oils and also came across a U. of Kansas study about the dangers of heating oils, nuts, seeds etc. w/ high PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) levels. Following is the link that gives a more detailed description of why flax and many other oils seeds and nuts are unsafe to cook with. http://www.kumc.edu/school-of-medicine/integrative-medicine/health-topics/healthy-cooking-oils.html

  25. Marie Marie November 20, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    Thanks so much to all the posters so far. I’m not a nutritionist, but I read all I can about healthy nutrition. I follow a vegan diet except for homemade quark (raw milk curds) and with plenty of raw fruits and veggies. It’s my understanding that the problem with heating *any* unsaturated oil is that it turns the good fatty acids into transfats. I’m sure the readers of this site are well aware of the importance of avoiding those. Please someone correct me if this isn’t true. According to the pioneering research of Dr. Johanna Budwig (“Dr. Flaxseed”), one should heat only coconut oil and use unsaturated oils exclusively for cold dishes. I should think that would include the oil in flaxseeds and other nuts. I know, I know — I love my baked goods (pecan pie!) as much as the next sweet tooth. But I’m thinking that seeds and nuts shouldn’t be used for baking at all. I’m looking into this right now, which brought me to this website. I welcome any comments or corrections.

  26. J. Dickinson January 12, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

    Not to be a nay sayer, but, have you seen this study?

    http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=18

  27. Summer January 13, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    Here has different views.

    http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=18

  28. Jax March 28, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    I found that your links, also show that baking ground flaxseed is safe. As well as others. After reading your post, I was very concerned. I too would like to read more than 1 study confirming your claims, which I still haven’t seen 1 yet. It is very important not to make claims that are accurate, not misleading. I don’t feel that this is really a matter of ‘choice’ as it is one of actual studies, facts and reports. You can then choose to make your decision based on those.:)

  29. Micki April 18, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    Hi Sondi,

    First of all, I think it is very responsible and kind of you to provide an update on heating issues with flax. I never used ground flaxseed in baking for this very reason, and was quite cautious about using whole flax as well. I had a friend who purchased the ground flax pre-packaged, which I read turns rancid rather quickly. I warned her, but she felt that her information communicated that it was fine. Oh well. I also thought to myself, if I wouldn’t cook with Flaxseed Oil (you know, the oil supplement sold in the store which read “DO NOT HEAT THIS OIL” and which REQUIRES refrigeration and expires relatively quickly), I wasn’t comfortable with baking with it contained in the seed. There are so many sources on this, it used to be difficult to distinguish which was really the most reliable. I am VERY glad to know the whole seed is ok for baking now that credible studies are published (I LOVE granola with flaxseed but previously stopped buying it). I do believe that there is an oven temperature limit for baking with flax, but don’t have that info handy to provide. I also soak and dehydrate flaxseeds to remove phytic acids and enzyme inhibitors which increases their nutrition and bioavailability (or buy ground sprouted flaxseeds, since the dehydration process makes them shelf stable). And I supplement with progesterone when I’m consuming flax, since I’ve read thru many studies that too much estrogen intake can result in disease. And let’s face it, flax has ALOT of phytoestrogen in it, which can throw the body out of balance. Anyhoo, thank you again and keep up the wonderful work you’re doing!

  30. Robin Dunham March 6, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    See whfoods website. Studies show whole flax seeds baked at normal temperatures for normal lengths of time retain almost all of their ala content compared to the raw product. I don’t know about meal. It pays to google, i guess.

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