Have you ever wondered what the big deal is about flax seeds? Most likely you’ve heard a whole host of health professionals and nutritionists talking about this super-powerful plant-based food. And for good reason! Not only are flax seeds one of the most splendid sources of plant-based dietary fiber — keeps you regular! — but flax seeds are also one of the only natural, plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, flax seeds are mostly recognized for these high levels of lovely fatty acids.
What’s so great about omega-3 fatty acids? These fats are “essential to health and have been associated with benefits like reduced inflammation, improved heart health, and protection for the brain against aging.” They have also been linked to a few mental health benefits as well including reduced anxiety and depression. While some people turn towards plant-based sources of their omega-3 fatty acids, others may think that fish oil is a better source. The debate is hot, but all you have to do is simmer it down to the science! While fish oil is very high in these healthy fats, there are also a handful of unpleasant side effects from consuming fish oil on a regular basis, especially as a supplement.
Let’s take a moment and perform a deep dive into flaxseed oil and why it may be a better option for you than fish oil!
What is Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil?
As you may have guessed, flaxseed oil comes from flaxseed. Specifically, the oil — also called linseed oil — is cold-pressed from ripened flaxseeds. So, what exactly is flax? To start, it’s “one of the oldest cultivated crops, having been grown since the beginning of civilization,” — linen made from flax has been found in “burial chambers dating back to about 3000 B.C.” This blue-flowering plant “grows best in cool climates with long periods of daylight,” was first “domesticated in the Fertile Crescent,” but is native to the area “extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India.”
Jump forward a couple of thousand years and you’ll find flax introduced to the states by colonists. While flax was used for clothing and livestock feed, flaxseed oil began to become popularized for use in paintings. As the uses for flaxseed — especially the discovery of the nutritional and health benefits — became more evident, flax began to be cultivated in the states on a more permanent basis, primarily in North and South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota.
Now, flaxseed is hailed as one of the most powerful and healthy plant-based foods! Flaxseed oil is widely available in both liquid forms for your kitchen, as well as in capsule and supplemental forms. This oil is rich in body-boosting agents including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a form of omega-3 fatty acid, which is then converted into “small amounts of other fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid.”
An important note! Flaxseed oil lacks many of the nutrients that the whole flaxseed contains such as “fiber, magnesium, and vitamin B.” Therefore, if you’re consuming flaxseed oil for both those omega-3 fatty acids and these other nutrients, make sure to consume both flaxseed oil and flaxseed meal — ground flaxseed, which his easier for the digestive system to process.
Nutritional Benefits of Flaxseed Oil
When it comes to flaxseed, there are lots of nutritional intricacies to talk about! The flaxseed, which produces that lovely flaxseed oil, is “extremely nutritious and disease-preventing.” This is mostly due to the fact that it’s “loaded with healthy omega-3s, fatty acids that have been associated with healthier brains and hearts, better moods, decreased inflammation, and healthier skin and hair.”
So, what’s in flaxseed exactly? First off, flaxseed oil “contains 50 percent to 60 percent omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).” While you won’t find much macronutrient power in flaxseed oil, — one tablespoon offers 2.8 grams of fiber, 1.8 grams of protein, and 3 grams of carbs — flaxseed is a great source of vitamin E, as well as those other healthy fats including monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated.
Health Benefits of Flaxseed Oil
Alright, we know that flaxseeds are loaded with those healthy fats, but why is that a good thing? How does your body use these healthy fats to benefit your life on a daily basis? Surprisingly, flaxseed oil can add positively to the health of your body each and every day in a variety of ways! Here are a few health benefits that come from consuming flaxseed oil.
1. Healthy Weight Management
Maintaining a healthy weight for your age and body build is an important part of overall health. Obesity leads to a slew of health issues including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, and, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, all-causes of mortality.
Flaxseed is a natural oil lubricant for the colon, which means it’s a powerful natural laxative. The oil sourced from flaxseed will help to keep “things moving in the digestive system” and will aid your body in ridding itself of “food and waste more quickly.” In short, flaxseed oil “helps your body to detoxify and shed excess weight.” This also means that flaxseed oil is an excellent remedy for constipation, a condition that an alarming amount of people — an estimated 2.5 million people — suffer from fairly regularly.
2. Boosts Heart Health
I don’t need to tell you about the importance of a healthy heart! This vital organ is exactly that … vital! Luckily, incorporating flaxseed into your diet is an excellent way to boost the health of your heart and keep it healthy. Based on research, “eating foods high in alpha-linolenic acid-like flaxseed oil might help prevent and treat heart disease.”
A few studies have looked at the effect of ALA on heart health and the results are promising! For instance, one study found “that people who eat a diet high in ALA are less likely to have a fatal heart attack,” while a separate study looked specifically at women “who ate high levels of ALA (1.5 grams per day) [and found they] had a 46 percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death than those who ate the lowest amount of ALA (about half a gram per day).”
3. Fights Cancer
In the backs of our minds, we’re all aware of the boogie man that is cancer and that we’re all susceptible. With that said, there are lots of things you can do between diet and lifestyle to help give your body the fighting agents it needs. Flaxseed oil happens to be one of these awesome natural agents!
Not only has flaxseed been proven beneficial via studies — for instance, one study found that “flaxseed oil benefits may include helping prevent the growth of breast tumors” — but it’s actually been included in “natural treatment diets like the Budwig diet protocol for cancer.” In the highly respected journal Nutrition and Cancer, it was found that the “ALA in flaxseed oil reduced cancer cell growth and induced apoptosis, which is programmed cell death of cancer cells.”
How Flaxseed Oil Trumps Fish Oil
While I may have already painted a pretty convincing case for the use of flaxseed oil, you may be wondering what’s so bad about fish oil? Besides the fact that fish oil is sourced from fish, there are a few other health-related downsides to using fish oil over flaxseed oil. Here are a few of the lesser-known unpleasant side effects of consuming fish oil or fish oil supplements.
Fish Oil Con #1
One of the nastier side effects of consuming fish oil is bleeding. Specifically, “bleeding gums and nosebleeds.” Why all the blood? Turns out that, per a study published in the National Library of Medicine and conducted at the Kolling Institute of Medical Research in Australia, consuming “640 mg of fish oil per day over a four-week period decreased blood clotting in healthy adults.” While this is generally associated with taking too much fish oil, any side effect that involves issues with your blood clotting is something that should probably be avoided altogether.
Fish Oil Con #2
Finding the right gastrointestinal balance — I’m talking about that healthy middle-ground between diarrhea and constipation! — is an integral part of a healthy body. When it comes to consuming fish oil, many people oftentimes find themselves suffering from diarrhea. In fact, diarrhea is “one of the most common side effects associated with taking fish oil, may be especially prevalent while taking high doses.” Along with simply being unpleasant, diarrhea can also lead to severe dehydration, which can land you in the hospital. On top of that, fish oil is also associated with other gastrointestinal issues including increased flatulence, acid reflux, belching, nausea, and stomach discomfort.
Fish Oil Con #3
While you may have been aware of the bleeding and the gastrointestinal discomfort, many people are unaware that too much fish oil can actually cause a vitamin A toxicity. Yes, vitamin A is very important for your overall health! It protects your eyes, lowers the risk of certain cancers, supports your immune system, can help with acne, and increases bone health. On the other hand, too much vitamin A can be very dangerous. Vitamin A toxicity causes “dizziness, nausea, joint pain, and skin irritation” in the short term and leads to long term effects such as “liver damage and even liver failure.” Particular types of omega-3 fatty acids — especially those found in fish products — can lead to vitamin A toxicity. For instance, one tablespoon of cod liver oil fulfills “270 [percent] of your daily vitamin A needs in [just] one serving.”
How to Cook with Flaxseed Oil
Alright, you’re convinced and now you want to figure out how to get about incorporating flaxseed oil into your diet! Luckily, this is fantastically easy! Flaxseed oil can be used in a variety of recipes or you can simply take a spoonful raw if you’re truly adventurous.
First off, make sure you go with a “virgin” flaxseed oil as this means the oil has been extracted from the flaxseed mechanically and without any chemicals! Also, one of the best tips you can walk away with when learning to cook with flaxseed oil is to remember not to fry with it! Flaxseed oil has a relatively low smoke point — around 225 degrees Fahrenheit — “which doesn’t make it the best bet for high-heat cooking or roasting.” Plus, before beginning to incorporate any new dietary regimen, it’s always highly recommended to speak with a medical professional, nutritionist, or dietitian first!
1. Get Baking
One of the best ways to use flaxseed oil in the kitchen is baking! Due to its low smoke point, flaxseed oil does best when consumed raw or used on low heat. Plus, not only do you get to infuse your favorite baked goodies with a helping of omega-3 fatty acid, but flaxseed oil is a great substitute for other unhealthy baking oils. Remember that flaxseed oil has a nutty flavor, so make sure to pair it with recipes that need a little infusion of nuttiness!
Here are a few recipes to try substituting your flaxseed oil: Mixed Berry Crumble Tarts, Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies, Chocolate Caramel Pecan Toffee, Nutty Maple Chai Oat Blondies, or this White Chocolate Blueberry Cheesecake.
2. Go Raw
Flaxseed oil is a lot like olive oil. They both have a very distinct flavor and delicate fatty profiles that make them perfect to be used in the raw form. This means you can either consume a spoonful — maybe not the most appetizing avenue — or simply sprinkle on or include in raw recipes.
Here are a few raw recipes to give your flaxseed oil a try: Two Ingredient Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Carrot Ginger Soup with Curried Raisin Relish, Buckwheat and Avocado Tabbouleh, Raw Russian Tahini Fudge, or this Fermented Taco Salad.
3. Add to a Condiment
Last, but definitely not least, you can either substitute or add a splash of flaxseed oil to a condiment of your choice to give it a bit of a nutritional boost! Once again, keep in mind that flaxseed oil does have a unique nutty flavor, so choose your condiment wisely. With that said, you can have a lot of fun with this substitution!
If you’re looking to learn all you can about this amazing plant-based food, get your reading on with a few of these awesome flax-based and omega-3-related articles!
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