Dear Health Conscious Reader,
You’ve probably heard of flaxseed as a “superfood” … a cure-all for everything from cancer to high cholesterol. Flaxseeds are put in everything from cereal and margarine to egg-replacement products today.
Yet flaxseed is not a time-tested food product. It’s not something we evolved with, so there’s no way of telling how eating it will affect humans in the long run.
Flaxseeds simply aren’t natural to our way of eating. I think of it a lot like soy, in that it’s a “new” product that agro-business came up with. It’s cheaper than natural foods, and manufacturers have done a masterful job at convincing everyone that it’s healthy.
Of course, when I say natural, I don’t mean it doesn’t come from nature … because flaxseed does. A cardboard box is natural, too. But you’re not going to eat one.
What I mean is that flaxseed fails my fundamental test for something you should be putting into your body because it has to be processed.
If It’s Processed, It’s Not Natural
Originally, our native ancestors didn’t consider flax a food. They turned flax fibers into linen and rope, and if they used the flax seeds, it was to feed their animals.
When agriculture took over from the hunter-gatherer way of life, people began to crack open the flax seeds to make oil – you may know it as linseed oil – for paints, wood varnishes and skin ointments.
But in its natural form, the seed of the flax plant does nothing for you. Your body isn’t built to digest it.
For example, do you know what ileus is? It’s when your intestines are blocked and can’t move normally. It’s also what you get if you eat processed flaxseeds.
Animal studies suggest that overdose of flaxseed may also cause shortness of breath, rapid breathing, weakness, or difficulty walking, and may cause seizures or paralysis.1
You have to grind flaxseed or it’s nutritionally useless. And even after it’s been ground, it’s not necessarily safe to put in your body. That’s because they are put through something called solvent extraction. This means a solvent is mixed with the flaxseed oil to bind to toxins and release them from the oil.
This is done because flaxseeds contain small amounts of cyanide. And when the seeds are processed, the cyanide has a chance of being released into the oils, contaminating them and making them toxic for your body.2
And flaxseed oil isn’t saturated which means it could easily become rancid, especially when it’s heated for the detoxification processing.
It can even become rancid before it hits the shelves at your local health food store. And rancid oil is not something you want to put in your body. It can be strongly toxic. In fact in one study, rats that were fed heated oil developed liver damage regardless of the chemical properties of the oil.3
Beware of Estrogen Mimickers
This new addition to the human diet does have omega-3 fatty acids, but it also has lignans. These are phytoestrogens, which are chemicals that have estrogen-like effects in your body.
And while it may be ok for women going through menopause to have an excess of phytoestrogens, for others it can spell out disaster.
These plant-based compounds belong to a class of estrogen mimics that can cause men to develop breasts, can kill sex drive, and put them at a higher rate for prostate cancer.
It also adds to the hormonal imbalance found in the majority of the population today. Studies show that an overdose of phytoestrogens can cause early puberty in girls and infertility in women of child-bearing age.
The Wrong Omega-3s
Flaxseed is quickly replacing fish oil because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. But flaxseed doesn’t have the kind of omega-3 your body needs.
You need the EPA and DHA forms of omega-3 to promote proper body function. How much EPA and DHA are in flaxseed? None.
What flaxseed does contain is alpha-linolenic acid, which has to be converted to EPA and DHA to be of any use in your body. Your body only converts a very small amount of alpha-linolenic acid to the kinds of omega-3s you need, if it’s able to convert it at all. 4
Unfortunately, the standard American diet makes it even tougher for your body to convert the alpha-linolenic acid in flaxseed oil to EPA/DHA. According to quite a few studies, the body will convert only a very miniscule amount of the acid found in flaxseed oil into DHA and EPA, with some people unable to convert it to DHA at all.5,6
There are, however, some very good natural sources of alpha-linolenic acid and healthy omega-3s.
Here are some very simple steps you can take to get the right omega-3s from what you eat.
Step 1 – The Best Foods for Alpha-linolenic Acid
- An incredible source for natural alpha-linolenic acid is Sacha Inchi oil. It’s made up of more than 48 percent of this omega-3.
- There are three specific kinds of nuts you can eat. Brazil nuts have 46.6 percent, butternuts have 16 percent and English walnuts have 13.1 percent alpha-linolenic acid. These are really the omega-3 powerhouse nuts. The rest, like cashews and hazelnuts, have very little omega-3.
- Several seeds are loaded with alpha-linolenic acid. They are Perilla, chia, cowberry and sea buckthorn seeds. One mostly forgotten source of alpha-linolenic acid is the seed of the kiwi fruit. They have an astonishing 62 percent alpha-linolenic acid content.
Step 2 – Eat Some Fish
When you think of omega-3s, most people think of eating fish. But it’s not always so simple. Most fish today, unless you know otherwise, is probably going to be farm-raised.
Did you know that farm-raised salmon has less omega-3 than beef? And farm-raised tilapia was found to have more omega-6s than the average doughnut!7
Farmers feed the fish corn and soy because it’s cheap, but that’s not natural and inflammatory to them, so the fish make omega-6 fatty acids.
I recommend eating smaller cold-water, high-fat, wild-caught fish, such as sardines or herring. You can also eat wild-caught salmon.
Step 3 – Avocados and Eggs
- Like a tomato, the avocado is a fruit. An amazing fruit, actually. In every cup of avocados there’s 2.89 grams of protein, 10.79 grams of carbohydrates, and 7.3 grams of dietary fiber. They have amino acids, linoleic acid and 12 different minerals.
Avocados have 13 different vitamins, and each cup gives you 20% of the vitamin A, C, B6 and folate you need every day.
And one cup of avocados also gives you 160 mg of omega-3s.
- Eggs aren’t a fruit, but they are a superfood. One egg gives you the perfect balance of omega-3, too. Each egg has around 40 mg of omega-3. One thing you can do is to buy omega-3-enriched eggs. These come from hens fed an omega-3-enriched diet, and these eggs will usually have around 100 mg in each egg.
Step 4 – Protein Rules
Animals fed grains have the same problem that fish that are fed grains have. It’s not their natural diet, and it’s inflammatory for the animals. Their fat, where much of the nutrients you need are stored, then has less CoQ10 and omega-3, and more pollutants. Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, is better for you where omega-3 is concerned. This is because:
- A standard serving of grass-fed beef has 88.5 mg of omega-3. Grain-fed beef can have as little as 20 mg for each serving.
- The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in grain-fed beef can be 6:1. In grass-fed beef, it’s closer to an ideal, natural 1:1 ratio.8
Step 5 – My Favorite Source
My favorite animal source of omega-3 is cod liver oil. It has all the EPA and DHA you need.
You also can take fish-oil supplements for omega-3, where the oil is pressed from the skeletal muscle of the fish. But you won’t be getting the CoQ10 and vitamin D that you will from cod-liver oil.
1 “Flaxseed and flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum),” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com, July 8, 2010
2 Wanasundara, P.K., Shahidi, F., “Process-induced compositional changes of flaxseed,” Adv Exp Med Biol. 1998; 434:307-25
3 Nagao, Totani, Munkhjargal, Burenjargal, Miho, Yawata and Yuko Ojiri, “Chemical Properties and Cytotoxicity of Thermally Oxidized Oil,” J. Oleo Sci., 2008; Vol. 57, 153-160
4 Brenna, J.T., “Efficiency of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to long chain n-3 fatty acids in man,” Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2002; 5(2):127-32
5 Burdge, G.C., Calder, P.C., “Conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to longer-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human adults,” Reprod Nutr Dev. Sept.-Oct. 2005; 45(5):581-97
6 Gerster, H., “Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid?” Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res. 1998; 68(3):159-73.
7 “Popular Fish, Tilapia, Contains Potentially Dangerous Fatty Acid Combination,” Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, July 2008
8 “Grass Fed Beef: Omega,” Califonia State University, Chico