Whether you’re dealing with digestive issues, autoimmunity, or a host of other issues, controlling inflammation is key to getting better and feeling good.
One factor that affects our inflammation is the balance of ‘essential fatty acids’ in our body.
Many people try to improve this by taking flax seed oil. A cheap, easy to find supplement. Are they really helping themselves?
To understand flax seed oil, we have to talk about two types of polyunsaturated fats, called omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
These fats are also called essential fatty acids (EFAs) because our bodies are not able to make them, and we need them to live.
We need both omega 3s and omega 6s to be healthy, though our current S.A.D (Standard American Diet) is heavily out of balance with way too much omega 6 and way too little omega 3s for good health.
The next piece to understand is that omega 6s and omega 3s roughly speaking, come in two types – short and long. Plants mostly make and use the short omegas and animals mostly make and use the long omegas.
As a generalization plants store omega 3s in their leaves and omega 6s in their seeds.
Animals can, with varying degrees of efficiency, turn short EFAs into long EFAs.
What’s so special about flax
Flax seeds contain relatively high amounts of short omega 3s (technically known as ALA) in their seeds, making them an easily available source of plant-based omega 3s.
This of course is why flax seeds are pressed for their oil and sold as an omega 3 EFA supplement, flax seed oil.
What’s the problem with flax seed oil
1. Rancidity – polyunsaturated oils go bad quickly and easily. Take fish for example – that foul fishy odor of old fish is the polyunsaturated oils in the fish beginning to go rancid.
The same thing happens to your flax seed oil (and other vegetable oils). When the oil is in the seed it is protected by natural antioxidants in the seed. When it is processed, often with high heat, pressure, and chemical assistance, that process often begins to make the oil rancid. It then may be left on the shelf for months, further allowing rancidity to occur. Then, if you heat it (don’t cook with flax seed oil!) it further goes rancid.
And lastly, if you are antioxidant depleted from poor diet and lifestyle then polyunsaturated oils once in your body, continue to go rancid. A lose-lose-lose-lose situation.
So for those two reasons, concerns about rancidity and the fact that many people have a tough time converting the short Omega-3 EFAs in flax seed oil, I do not recommend flax seed oil.
Instead I recommend fish (and/or fish oil), which is rich in the long EFAs our bodies need, and because it’s easier to get oil out of fish then out of seeds, issues with rancidity are greatly reduced – please do not buy the ‘bargain basement fish oil’ as it is likely to be much more rancid than the better quality products.
Or skip the fish oil and eat fish on a regular basis – 1/2 – 1 pound of fish a week is a good baseline for people with an emphasis on the fattier fish like salmon.
If you are ethically against the eating of fish, your other options include krill (a small crustacean near the bottom of the food chain) and for committed vegetarians or vegans, algae derived long chain Omega 3’s (DHA). Algae derived DHA is the only fully non-animal based long chain EFA and for the vegetarians and vegans out there I strongly recommend it over flax seed oil.
A little bit more
The last thing, is to recognize that the EFAs are all about balance.
And in our society we eat FAR too much of the omega 6s and far too little of the omega 3s.
This promotes inflammation and makes us fat and sick. To fix this we really have two options, either mega dose the omega 3s to bring them back into balance, which is what many of us have done in the past. OR, and this seems like the healthier option, dramatically cut back on the omega 6s and add in modest amounts of omega 3s.
What contains omega 6s?
Primarily plant seeds.
This means anything with vegetable oils (which come from plant seeds) is going to be high in omega 6 – such as corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, soy oil, and ‘vegetable’ oil. Used in virtually all processed foods.
Exceptions are: flax seed oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and palm oil
Nuts, in general, are going to be high in omega 6s. Nuts are also very calorie dense, so if you are overweight, you shouldn’t eat a lot of them.
And finally, grains and legumes (beans) are going to be high in omega 6s. Grains of course include the flours that make up most of our baked goods.
The biggest bang for your buck in reducing your omega 6s is going to be to eat very little vegetable oil which means very little processed food. If you look at the ingredient list of most processed food from potato chips to cheap ice cream you’ll see vegetable oil, which means the food-like product is high in omega 6s.
From there to reduce your omega 6s lower (if you need or want to), you’ll need to cut out grains and legumes, and finally reduce your consumption of nuts if you eat them frequently.
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Photo attribution – https://bit.ly/2KjV2gE
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