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Flax is a plant that produces both a food product and a material for clothing. Although the edible part of flax is not a grain, but rather a seed, it can still form part of a flax cereal for breakfast. Both cold and hot cereals can contain flax seed as an ingredient, which can add fiber and essential fats to a diet.
Linum usitatissimum is the scientific name for the flax plant, which is a herb. Each year a new flax plant grows from seed and then dies after releasing its own seeds. It is the seeds, and the oil from the seeds that are the edible parts of the herb. The rest of the plant is very fibrous, and is suitable for items that require long, thin fiber structures, like linen or fishing nets.
Cereals are normally made from grains like wheat or corn, as these provide the necessary carbohydrates and are suitable for longterm storage in forms like dry flakes. Flax cereal does not usually contain flax alone, but instead has a grain base and a flax seed addition. The grain component provides a carbohydrate element to the cereal, and the flax contributes some fiber, oils and protein.
The human body needs to take in fats, and flax seeds contain essential fatty acids which make up good versions of fats. Eating these types of fats may be beneficial for the circulatory system, the digestive system and for arthritis symptoms, but the evidence is not conclusive, as of 2011. The fiber in the flax seeds can help increase digestive motility, and traditionally the seeds and oil were used as a laxative, but ideally, the fiber should be accompanied by a liquid for optimal motility.
Although some studies suggest that certain chemicals in the flax seeds, called lignans, have beneficial effects in the body for conditions like breast cancers or colon cancer, others show that the seeds may make prostate cancer more likely to occur. Research is ongoing into the effects of the lignans, which can act like estrogen hormones in the body. Flax cereal, and other flax products, may be unsuitable for people whose cancers may react to estrogen-like effects.
Dry cereals, such as those in flake form, may contain flax as an ingredient. Some cereals designed to be eaten hot also contain flax seeds, and these tend to be ground smaller to take up the hot milk or water more easily. Various organic cereals contain flax, and the calories in a serving of flax cereal varies depending on the manufacturer and the other ingredients.