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Monday, October 13, 2008

Flax Oil vs Fish Oil

One of the greatest flaws in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is a lack of omega-3 fatty acids.

Repleting this deficiency typically improves memory and mental functioning as well as corrects a gamut of other annoying health problems.

The reason for this is that these essential oils are necessary for proper brain functioning, immune function, hormonal balance and skin integrity as they are the necessary building blocks for the cellular membrane of every single cell in our body. Wow just ONE thing for all SIXTY TRILLION cells in your body!

This must be pretty important then…

Signs of omega-3 deficiency are memory loss, ADHD behavior, depression, dry skin, calluses on the heels, tendency to produce excess ear wax, rashes, arthritis and inflammation. Omega-3’s also appear to decrease the incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as reduce the severity of psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic complications. Substantial evidence also supports the use of fish oil for reduction of blood pressure, clotting, arrhythmias as well as hardening of the arteries. These oils are especially fundamental to the nervous system as they “insulate” each nerve fiber and speed it’s conductive ability. Electrical signals cannot travel rapidly in our bodies without the myelin sheath formed from these good fats.

A nervous system deficient in omega-3’s is as about as effective as a lamp with a frayed cord.

For most patients I just typically go straight for the fish oil. Ultimately I prefer to use plant foods over animal foods whenever possible for environmental purposes, however, fish oil is the rare exception to this rule. People of Northern European descent especially seem to have a problem converting the omega-3 fats found in plants like flax and walnut as the diet of their ancestors was heavily reliant on cold water fish. Many people are also deficient in magnesium and B vitamins that along with zinc play a key role in the biochemical process of converting plant oils like flax to the form the body can use. Fish oil conveniently comes already converted to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) the key players in brain function, inflammation, and disease prevention.

Adding a couple of teaspoons of fish oil in to your daily routine is as fundamental as a multi-vitamin in my opinion. Please note that if you are pregnant you should NOT use cod liver oil because the high vitamin A content can lead to birth defects. Flax oil or a non fish liver oil without any vitamin A would be the better option in this case, especially because omega-3’s have been shown to reduce the risk of pre-term labor, so including them safely in the diet is important for a healthy pregnancy. Always check with your OB/GYN before taking any supplements. Because of the anti-coagulant properties, fish oil should also not be used by those with bleeding disorders or taking blood thinning medications. Please check with your Naturopathic Physician before making any changes to your health care routine.

One of the cheapest ways to add omega-3 oils in to your diet is to simply purchase a big bag of flaxseeds and a cheap coffee grinder used solely for grinding them. Flax seeds are dirt cheap, full of omega-3’s, protein and fiber (1 Tbl=2 grams of fiber). They are also great for treating menopausal symptoms as the lignans have a phytoestrogenic effect that work synergistically with the omega-3 oils to balance hormones. You can mix three tablespoons of ground flax seeds with applesauce and enjoy them an hour before bed to also stabilize your blood sugar for a good night’s sleep. Now flax oil is extremely delicate so please grind the seeds right before you add them to smoothies, salads, yogurt, applesauce, soups and the like. Flax should never be cooked above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use flax seed oil as a salad dressing by adding equal parts of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, along with your favorite seasonings.

So enough blah blah blah…the take home message is that you can easily add ground flax seeds to your diet as a cheap healthy preventative measure as well as eat more Alaskan wild salmon (not farm raised salmon as it is high in PCB’s aka toxins. Current lists of safe fish for consumption are available at For those with chronic disease or neurological disorders, fish oil is most likely the better choice.

Whatever you do, don’t waste your time with supplements that claim they have the perfect balance of “Omega-6 and Omega-9″ blended with the Omega-3’s, as those oils are already widely available in most of the vegetable oils, raw nuts and seeds that we consume… so you are just wasting your money by taking those in a supplement. They are cheaper oils that just make the products more affordable but defeat the purpose in my opinion if you are already eating fat in your diet.

But, that is just my opinion and observation on what works best, in order to figure out what works best for each individual takes a bit of experimenting.

Balance Your Omegas With Flax

Good health is all about balance and moderation. Most Americans eat way too much animal fat and not nearly enough (if any) omega 3 fats found in cold water fish, flax, and walnuts.

Here are some simple tips for using flax to balance your lipids, creating a less inflammatory state in your system. If you are on blood thinning medications such as coumadin you need to discuss the use of flax oil with your doctor and watch your INR or PT as they will likely be affected from the use of flax oil due to it's antioxidant nature.

Fat Balancing Tips:

Decrease the consumption of total fat
• Saturated fat, in particular, gets converted to cholesterol and adds to blood levels.
• It is recommended to consume no more than 10% of total calories as saturated fat.
• Trans-fatty acids are also implicated in high cholesterol and associated diseases and should be avoided (sources include partially hydrogenated oils and margarine).

Decrease the consumption of cholesterol
• Research shows that in some people, reducing dietary intake of cholesterol can lower blood levels of cholesterol if an intake at or below 300mg/day is maintained.
• Increase the amount of plants and plant products you consume- fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds, and nuts. Remember, plants do not contain cholesterol.

Increase the consumption of dietary fiber
• Fiber, especially soluble fiber, aids in the excretion of cholesterol from the body. Legumes, oat bran, oatmeal, psyllium, and apples are excellent sources of soluble fiber.

Increase Antioxidants
• Antioxidants are effective at decreasing damage from the “bad” cholesterol. Good sources include fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, green and black tea, grape juice, garlic, raw and dry roasted nuts, and onions.

Physical Activity!
• Physical activity has been proven to raise the “good” (HDL) cholesterol. This kind of cholesterol helps rid your body of excess “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Enjoy 30–60 minutes of vigorous physical activity on most (or all) days of the week.

Therapeutic foods:
• Fiber: legumes, oat bran, oatmeal, psyllium, and apples are excellent sources of soluble fiber, which is the most beneficial kind of fiber for lowing cholesterol.
• Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids: cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring are excellent sources. Flax seeds and flax seed oil, and walnuts are good plant sources of essential fatty acids.
• Garlic has been shown to decrease cholesterol levels (both fresh and from extracts)
• Whole, raw, unsalted seeds and nuts are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein. They are excellent sources of essential fatty acids. The serving size equals 3-4 tablespoons.
• Lecithin: soybeans and soy products are the best sources.
• Fish and poultry: in place of red meat and processed deli meats
• Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits
• Increase use of flavonoids from tea (especially green tea), onions and grapefruit.


Recipe for Banana Flax Smoothie

1/2 banana
2 ice cubes
1 cup juice (try pineapple, apple, grape, etc.)
1 tablespoon yogurt
1 tablespoon flax seed oil or three tablespoons freshly ground flax seed.
Add all ingredients together in a blender and mix. Try adding protein powder, fresh or frozen berries, cherries, or whatever fruit you like. Great for breakfast or a snack.

Tips About Flax Oil

Tips about flax seed oil:

• It should always be kept in the refrigerator in a dark bottle to maintain freshness.
• Never cook with flax oil or heat it on the stove or in the microwave. — this destroys the benefits of the oil.
• As the oil sits over time it loses its freshness, smelling and tasting stronger.

Why do We Need Fat?

Fats & oils are made from building blocks of fatty acids. Fatty acids affect health in different ways.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) have healing properties that are crucial for maintaining health. There are two types of EFAs: omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Fatty acids like the omega 3 family promote normal cell growth and function, thus helping to maintain healthy tissues and prevent degenerative disease. To maintain overall health, it is a good idea to keep the dietary intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in balance. This means consuming approximately 10 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. To achieve more of a healthy balance select nutrient-dense, whole-foods high in omega 3 fats.

Monounsaturated oils are liquid at room temperature but start to solidify at refrigerator temperatures. They easily combine with oxygen in the air to become rancid; therefore it is best to store them in the refrigerator. When substituted for saturated fats in the diet, monounsaturated fats may help to reduce overall cholesterol levels.

Polyunsaturated oils or omega 6 fatty acids are liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator. These fats are essential for health, but excessive amounts may promote inflammatory disease, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.

Saturated fats and trans-fats are the main dietary factors for raising blood cholesterol.

Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. When consumed in excess, foods high in saturated fat can promote inflammatory disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Hydrogenated fats & oils, and trans fats are a result of food manufacturing. During food processing fats may undergo a chemical process called hydrogenation that results in the formation of trans-fats. This process changes liquid oil, naturally high in unsaturated fatty acids, to a solid and more saturated form that may be as harmful to health as naturally occurring saturated fats. Many commercial products contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – read ingredient labels on products to avoid consuming these harmful oils. Also, be aware that most restaurants and fast-food chains use hydrogenated oils in the making of fried foods.

Tips to Reduce Saturated Fat Intake:
• Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans-fat and/or cholesterol, such as full-fat milk products, fatty meats, tropical oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and egg yolks.
• When consuming meat, use lean cuts and trim excess fat. Remember, lean cuts of meat still contain saturated fat even after trimming the excess. Limit portions to 3 ounces.
• Avoid consuming the skin of game birds (it is a high source of saturated fat).
• Use a fat separator (strainer) when making gravies or soup stock.
• Avoid frying or fried foods. When exposed to high heat during frying or cooking, most vegetable oils can form toxic products that can promote cell injury

Helpful Tips:
• Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Choose 5 or more servings per day.
• Eat a variety of whole grain products. Choose 6 or more servings per day.
• Eat fish at least twice a week, particularly fatty fish.
• Include fat-free and low-fat milk products, beans, and skinless poultry and lean meats.
• Choose fats and oils with 2 grams or less saturated fat per tablespoon, such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean and olive oils.
• Avoid processed food products that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in the list of ingredients.
• Avoid the use of hydrogenated shortenings. Choose those made from vegetable fat such as corn oil or canola oil.
• Use reduced-fat or no-fat dressings for salads, dips and marinades.
• Remember to count the “hidden fat” in bakery and snack foods as well as the fats used in cooking and on vegetables and breads.
• Remember that coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil are high in saturated fat, even though they are vegetable oils and have no cholesterol.
• Use cooking styles that add little or no fat to food, and ask to have foods cooked that way when eating out.
• Read ingredient lists and food labels carefully. Pay attention to serving sizes.

Recipe Ideas:
• Substitute fish, vegetable or fat free chicken stock for part or all of the oil in a recipe.
• Onions sautéed in their own juice and pureed with light miso can be substituted for butter or margarine on toast or bread.
• A very loose oatmeal puree (1 c of rolled oats to 4 c of water) can be substituted for milk or cream in cream soup or gravy recipes.
• 2 egg whites can be substituted for each whole egg called for in a recipe.
• Use fats and oils sparingly. And use the ones lowest in saturated fat and cholesterol for cooking, baking and in spreads.
• Broil, bake, boil, or water sauté foods instead of frying. If frying, use minimal amounts of olive or canola oil. To water sauté instead of stir frying in oil, put 1/2 to 1 cup of water or stock into a wok or skillet, and bring to a rapid boil. Quickly add vegetables and keep stirring over high heat until done.
• Try “better butter” in place of butter. Use sparingly; it still contains saturated fat.

Better Butter Recipe:
Blend 1/4 cup of softened (or warmed) butter with
1/8 to 1/4 cup of oil such as olive, canola, sunflower, safflower, almond oil, or flax oil.
Spice up “better butter” by adding any spice of your choice: fresh garlic, hot chili pepper, tarragon, sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon, honey, vanilla, or bitter orange oil



Freshly ground flaxseeds are one of the cheapest easiest things a person can do to enhance their health is purchase a small coffee grinder that is strictly used for grinding flax seeds.

The omega 3 oils in flax are extremely delicate so it is best to grind them up fresh right before you eat them. I thought this was a huge inconvenience when I first learned about it and was disappointed to get rid of my expensive bag of pre-ground flax seeds kept in the freezer, until I simply started to keep a little container of flax seeds with a tablespoon scooper on the counter right next to the grinder.


This website is intended for educational purposes only. Read our full disclaimer. Always work with your physician for proper care and supervision. Never make any changes to your health care without first consulting with your physician. Have your physician check for drug interactions, and always be cautious when combining natural medicines and prescription drugs.