It seems talk about flax—both flax oil and ground flaxseed—heats up and cools down at various intervals. There’s no question, flax is an incredibly nutritious food. But no matter what the buzz of the moment, it’s important to understand that flaxseed and the oil pressed from those seeds bring different benefits to our bodies.
Flaxseed oil is nature’s greatest source of plant-based Omega-3 Fatty Acids (walnuts and Canola oil are other non-animal sources, and salmon is also rich in Omega-3s of a slightly different makeup), which are vital to our health, but that our bodies cannot produce on their own. These fats affect the function of each cell membrane throughout our bodies, so it’s no surprise to find that their impact is wide reaching. Numerous studies have shown them to play an important role in protecting against heart disease and some cancers, and perhaps even autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Many people seek out ground flaxseed for the Omega-3s that make the oil so healthy, but they’re looking for the wrong thing. Flaxseed’s claim to fame is its lignans (flaxseed has 100 times higher lignan count than oats, which are next in line). Lignans are powerful phytochemicals with antioxidant properties that regulate estrogen, which may explain why they appear to protect against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Balancing it Out
Adding flaxseed oil to your diet—either as a condiment (it’s a fragile oil that doesn’t taste super-inspiring, so you’re best off adding a drizzle here and there) or a supplement—is not a bad idea. Most recommendations are for a bare minimum of 2-4 grams of Omega-3 Fatty Acids a day, and just a half tablespoons of flax oil will give you 4 grams. To get that much from flaxseed, you’d have to eat over 2 tablespoons a day. But don’t discount flaxseed, with its lignans and fiber and nutty taste. I like it paired with oats and dark chocolate in these beauties.