Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Health

Every day I read another article on the health benefits of consuming omega 3 fatty acids. Today I read an abstract of an article that suggests that increasing your omega 3 to omega 6 ratio reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. That article prompted me to post this so that I could share some of what I have learned about omega 3 fatty acids because they are so important for good health.

I have read many articles on this topic and most doctors recommend that your ratio of omega 3 to 6 should be no more than 1:2 and preferably 1:1. However the ratio for the average American is 1:20+. Scary isn’t it?

What can you consume to increase your consumption of omega 3’s? We use ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, hempseeds and flaxseed oil at our house. Each seems to find its way into a different food group at our house.

We buy the flaxseeds whole since I read years ago that ground flaxseeds begin to break down 20 minutes after they are ground. On a side note, I see a lot of blogs that love flaxseed crackers. However, those crackers normally appear to contain whole flaxseeds. The body isn’t capable of breaking down the whole flaxseeds so the omega 3’s pass through the body unabsorbed (I think you get the idea). Whole flaxseeds in raw crackers or on bread are not adding to your total omega 3 consumption. Flaxseeds are best stored in the freezer so that they won’t go rancid. A burr style coffee grinder makes a perfect flaxseed grinder and that is what I use for our morning smoothies.

Chia seeds are great in salad dressings, aqua fresca, and for thickening soy products to mimic dairy. Grind these in the same coffee grinder so they don’t have the “tomato seed” texture you get if you leave the chia seeds whole. Chia seeds are virtually tasteless so they thicken food without imparting taste.

Hempseeds can be used exactly like sesame seeds. They are good on salad, sprinkled over vegetables or glazed seitan. Hempseeds have a rich flavor that reminds me of pine nuts.

Flaxseed oil was the most difficult item to learn to love. I add it to smoothies and cold soups. I sometimes use it as half the fat when I make salad dressing. Other people I know use it as you would olive oil to dip bread into (I am not there yet). I prefer to think of flaxseed oil as an acquired taste that I am still working to acquire since I know it is so good for me.

About a year ago I was reading Dean Ornish’s book “The Spectrum” and learned that canola oil was a healthier fat than olive oil. The Italian side of me was in utter disbelief. How could this be true? It has to do with the ratio of omega 3:6. The ratios of the omega 3:6 of a few common oils are shown below:

Canola oil fat ratio 1:2
Olive oil fat ratio 1:13
Corn oil fat ratio 1:46
Flaxseed oil fat ratio 3:1

I now use canola oil as my fat of choice when cooking, abandoning my Italian heritage and love of olive oil. Corn oil, soybean or blended oils haven’t been in my kitchen for years.

In case you don’t know omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory and omega 6 fats are pro-inflammatory. We choose to include things in our diet that are good for our health, since we need all the help we can get with the C word ever looming in the background.

If there is anything I didn’t cover or that requires further explanation please let me know by posting a comment. I wanted to stop here so the post before the post got too tedious.


  1. hey! its easier knowing that other ppl have a hard time getting used to it, i think i left a comment about the ratios in another post, thats really interesting. and IMPORTANT! i never know what type of cooking and baking type oil to get. olive oil is my fav but way to expensive to use in everything.when our oil gets lower...which may be awhile...ill be getting canola.

  2. Michelle,

    Flaxseed oil definitely is harder to love in terms of flavor, you aren't alone. The flavor of olive oil is still my favorite by far, but I try to use it only a few times a month now versus everyday as I used to.



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