I often get asked about which oils are healthiest, which are essential and whether supplementation in necessary or even good. Here are some questions from a student of mine that he’s allowed me to share so that I can clear up this sometimes confusing area of nutrition. Of course these responses are not the end-all, but this is the perspective that I have based on my nutrition background, research and experience, to help you make a decision for yourself.
“ I was taking plain old Flaxseed oil capsules, but the bottle doesn’t say anything about 3-6-9 or EPA or DHA — which I understand (correctly?) are important nutrients. So I started used Flora Udo’s Oil Blend 3-6-9, which contains all the good stuff. But it’s EXPENSIVE!”
I’ll start with a little recap about essential oils before launching into my student’s questions:
The essential oils are so named because they are not produced in the body. True that our bodies need omegas 3,6 and 9. It’s also true that we can produce omega 6 and 9 from omega 3 (but we cannot make omega 3 from omega 6) . Most modern diets are relatively high in omega 6 especially from vegetable oils. This disparity between omegas 3 and 6 causes imbalance. (A relative deficiency of omega 3)
Essential oils are responsible for such varied and essential functions as:
- Gland regulation (one of my nutrition friends was at her wit’s end about why she could not get pregnant. Enter Flax supplementation and she got pregnant right away!)
- Ease PMS symptoms
- Clear brain fog
- Improve digestion (especially for people with leaky gut or gut inflammation)
- Make for healthy hair, skin and nails
- Reduces inflammation
- Along with many more benefits!
1. Will I get the same benefit of Udo’s oil from plain Flaxseed oil?
You will get different benefits.
I usually recommend an oil higher in omega 3, and without focus necessarily on 6 and 9 (since we get too much of these anyhow).
Flax oil has a very high proportion of omega 3 to 6 and so I feel that it is a good ‘balancing oil’ for people who get too much omega 6 from vegetable oils.
Flax oil has other benefits, such and fiber and lignans, which are antioxidants and phytoestrogenic, and have been proven to reduce inflammation and have been linked to reduced rates of breast and colon cancer.
Udo’s oil is an oil blend. Udo wrote the book on fats and oils. Literally, ‘fats that heal, fats that kill‘ is a readable and comprehensive book on oils. Udo’s blend takes into consideration that modern diets have higher omega 6 and seriously deficient omega 3s and has formulated the blended accordingly.
I think that both oils are great, I tend to use flax more. I actually like to switch up oils, as having a varied diet (as we do in nature) is a safe and effective way to assure that we get all that we need (without getting too much of one thing!). One reason that I use flax more often, as my student had mentioned above is that it tends to be less expensive than the Udo’s blend. again, not the same thing, but a great source of Omegas. Some companies have simply not paid for the additional, non-mandatory nutrition analysis, indicating the % of EPA, DHA and omegas 3-6 ratio. The World’s Healthiest Foods website is a good source for all of that analysis. I don’t get too wrapped up in the analysis. I just know that when I supplement with flax oil, I feel good (meaning that I probably need what’s in it!) including clearer thinking and improved memory for me.
2. If so, is it important to use the oil version, or is it just as good to grind your own flax-seed?
Good question! Flax oil is super concentrated dose of omega 3s. It takes thousands of flax seeds to make a teaspoon of oil. I think of flax seeds as a therapeutic measure to come up from deficiency. I also add a splash of flax oil into dressings for good measure, but not as the main oil. See my ‘essential salad dressing’ recipe here.
Signs of omega 3 deficiency include:
- brain fog
- skin problems especially dry skin and itchy skin, flaky skin
- dry hair
- brittle nails
- intense menstrual cramps
If you can relate to a few of these symptoms, you may be deficient.
Ground flax-seeds are a whole food, which I love, because it has the entire compliment of minerals, vitamins and fiber in addition to the healthy oils of flax oil.
I use flax seeds in foods (gently heated if at all, and ground fresh) regularly to maintain good health.
3. And if so, what would be the daily amount of ground flax-seed per day needed to meet dietary requirements?
As for daily recommended, this depends largely on what else you are eating. If you eat lots of walnuts, you will not need as much flax for example, if it is Omegas you are concerned about…
As far as getting your omegas from ground flax:
One tbsp. of flax-seed oil contains 7.3 g of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. One tbsp. of ground flax-seed contains 1.6 g of ALA.
As far as fiber is concerned, some sources say to have 4 Tbsp/day. Again, this is based in the standard North American Diet, which is deficient in both omegas and fiber. If you are eating other whole grains, legumes, beans and produce, this amount is not necessary.
In a way I wish that there was a definite answer for this question, but as we all have different needs and diets, it varies a lot.
As with many things in diet (and life) the best advice that I have (and try to follow!) is to try it out and pay attention to how you feel. Start with a small amount of a food and work up gradually.Your body will tell you when to switch foods, increase or stop. Variety is so key. It seems that every time we hear about the wondrous new findings of a ‘superfood’ we try and go overboard, forgetting about all of the other wholesome foods out there. I use chia, flax, walnuts, fish, seaweeds and algae in their whole form, and know that they have healthy fats and fiber in them, so rotating within this variety rather than sticking to one food is a good method to assure balance.