Due to their supposed ability to boost brain power, fight fat and clear skin, there are many reasons why you should increase your intake of Omega 3s, but what’s the best way to do so? Cold-water fish, like mackerel and salmon, are popular sources, but what if you prefer a plant-based diet?
If you are trying to increase the amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids in your diet, flax seeds are a good choice. Flax seeds are the richest commonly available seed source of alpha-linolenic acid (plant-source omega-3′s). If you eat whole flax seed rather than flax seed oil, you get the whole seed package: protein, fiber, minerals and phytochemicals along with the omega-3s.
100 grams of flax seeds yields about:
35 grams of fat (60% omega-3 polyunsaturated, 18% monounsaturated, 10% saturated)
26 grams of protein
26 grams of fiber (14 grams insoluble, 12 grams soluble)
4 grams of minerals
9 grams of water
Flax seeds are also probably the best food source of the phytochemical lignan, (not to be confused with lignins, a type of fiber.) Flax contains 100 times the concentration of lignan as wheat bran, the next best source. This phytochemical is believed to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-cancer properties.
Unless you do something to break the hard outer coating of the flax seeds, they may pass through undigested. You can whirl them in a blender for a few seconds to break them into rough pieces, or mash them with a mortar and pestle. Or grind them into a meal with a coffee mill or spice grinder.
Omega-3s are the least stable of the fatty acids, so the oil turns rancid quickly if it is exposed to heat, light or air. Grind the seeds shortly before you eat them, and store any surplus in the refrigerator. Sprinkle your seeds on cereal, into salads or any other food. They have very little flavor and just a bit of crunch. If they taste unpleasant, they’re rancid and you need a new batch. (Rancid flax seeds or flax seed oil will smell like paint thinner).
Caution: Do not eat more than three or four tablespoons of raw flax seeds a day (we think one or two is plenty). They contain cyanogen which is harmless in small amounts, but in large amounts could act to keep your thyroid from absorbing enough iodine. Cyanogen is rendered inactive by cooking. Add some flax seeds to a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and other seeds. Don’t go overboard and eat them by the cupful! That applies to all foods — don’t eat huge amounts of any single food, no matter how beneficial it’s supposed to be. A healthful diet is a varied diet.
Information found in Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasumus, Alive Books, 1993, and The Omega Diet by Artemis P. Simopoulos, Harper Perennial, 1999.