Omega-3 fatty acids are supposed to be the business, right? Since I don’t eat fish, I’ve been supplementing my diet with flax oil, the richest plant source of omega-3s. But after reading the World’s Healthiest Foods’ take on flax oil, I’m not sure that this is the way forward:
Flaxseed oil is a processed food product in which most of the whole, natural food has been eliminated. We treat flax oil like a dietary supplement, and we do not include it in the World’s Healthiest Foods like we do flaxseeds. You can buy high-quality flax oil that includes many of the nutrients contained in the seeds, including some of the fiber. But you cannot find any flax oil that contains the full nutritional value of flaxseeds.
The word “processed” always gets my attention. Michael Pollan of In Defense of Food would say that this is a classic case of “nutritionism”, our modern ideology that deals with food by breaking it down into its constituent parts and trying to decipher what’s important. True, I try to make a point to eat whole, natural foods wherever possible, making the occasional exception for spaghetti (Tim has mastered the arrabiatta sauce as of late). But I eat spaghetti because it tastes good, whereas I eat flax oil to get omega-3’s. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just eat whole flax seeds, and all of the great fiber and nutrients that come with it?
What do flax seeds have that the oil lacks?
Flax seed oil has omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. That’s it. Whole flax seeds, however are full of nutrients, including high concentrations of manganese, fiber, magnesium, folate, copper, phosphorus and vitamin B6.
Nutrient concentration per 100g of flax seeds and flax oil
Source: USDA food database
Then why am I not eating more flax seeds?
Honestly, they are a pain in the ass. As WHF agrees, “one problem with flaxseeds, however, involves their chewing and digestion. Flaxseeds are very small and can pass through the body without becoming digested and absorbed.” Basically, our bodies don’t have the enzymes to break through the hard fibrous outer shell of the flax seed. So away they go, nutrients all, literally right down the pooper.
How can I get the benefits of the whole seed?
Flax seeds can be ground or soaked overnight to improve their digestibility. WHF recommends using a coffee grinder; mine do just fine in a blender.
But what do I DO with flax seeds once I’ve ground or soaked them?
It’s true, flax seeds on their own are kind of bland. Here are a few suggestions from me and WHF:
I’m still new to this but I’m sure you guys have some more great ideas. Please share in the comments!