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Omega-3 in Flax Seeds Has Wide-Ranging Benefits

With one tablespoon of flax seeds providing about 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseeds are right there on top of the list of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 along with foods like camelina seeds and chia seeds [1]. In plant-based foods such as flax seeds and chia seeds, omega-3 fats occur in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. In oily fish, by contrast, omega-3 fatty acids occur in two forms: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docohexaenoic acid (DHA). Also the omega-3 in oysters, microalgae and other marine sources occurs in the form of DHA and EPA.

Benefits of Omega-3 from Flaxseeds

DHA and EPA have received a tremendous amount of attention for their potential health benefits, which include improved cardiovascular function, healthy fetal development, and protection against Alzheimer's disease [2]. Although flax seeds do not contain DHA and EPA, you can provide your body small amounts of these much talked-about fatty acids by eating flax seeds because the human body can convert the ALA in flax seeds into DHA and EPA. Unfortunately, however, the human body is not very efficient at converting the omega-3 fatty acids in flax seeds and other sources ALA into DHA and EPA. Research suggests that the range of conversion of ALA to EPA in humans is generally somewhere between 0.2% to 9%, and the conversion to DHA is even lower [3]. As a result of the poor conversion rate, flax seeds tend to get overshadowed by marine sources of omega-3.

However, an increasing body of evidence suggests that also alpha-linolenic acid can offer some interesting health benefits, many of which are not related to its role as a precursor to DHA and EPA. One of the best known potential health benefits of alpha-linolenic acid is its ability to provide at least modest protection against cardiovascular disease, though it is worth noting that the evidence is not quite as strong as the evidence supporting the cardioprotective effects of DHA and EPA [4]. ALA has also been shown to lower biomarkers of inflammation in humans [5], which might explain why some people use flax seeds as a remedy psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions.

So, to conclude, go for high omega-3, low-mercury fish and other healthy marine sources if your goal is to reap the famous health benefits of DHA and EPA because the omega-3 in flax seeds is not easily converted to DHA and EPA by your body. If, by contrast, your goal is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, it is a good idea to eat both foods that contain DHA/EPA and foods that contain alpha-linolenic acid such as flax seeds because different types of omega-3 fatty acids perform different functions in the human body.

1. HealWithFood.org (2017). Top 10 Sources of Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
2. D. Swanson et al (2012). Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life. Advances in Nutrition, 3: 1-7.
3. J. Greenberg et al (2008). Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1(4): 162-169.
4. S. Rajaram (2104). Health benefits of plant-derived alpha-linolenic acid. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100, Supplement 1, 443S-448S.
5. A. Stark et al (2008). Update on alpha-linolenic acid. Nutrition Reviews, 66(6).


Super Seeds Cookbook Created by Chicago-based author and vegan food blogger Kim Lutz, Super Seeds is packed with recipes featuring five super-nutritious seeds: hemp, chia, flax, quinoa and amaranth. The vegan, gluten-free recipes included in this extraordinary cookbook include both savory and sweet treats, covering everything from salads and soups to breads and desserts. Taco-Seasoned Quinoa Stuffed Avocados, Hemp Seed Hummus, Blackberry Chia Jam, Amaranth Cornbread and Lemon Basil Quinoa Salad are just a few of the mouthwatering recipes you'll find in this cookbook.
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