Ground flaxseed has long been used in food preparation across Asia and Europe and now you can find many different products made from it in supermarkets across the United States. Available products range from tortilla chips to multigrain bars – whether you need a healthy snack or dinner, you’ll be able to find the right product.
Ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil are often combined with other food items to add nutrients. Adding a hint of flaxseed oil to a salad already rich in calcium and vitamins, or topping your cereal with some ground flaxseed, will make it more enjoyable – the healthier it is, the sweeter the taste. Most people are often left at a crossroad when it comes to choosing whether to use ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil. For instance, both can be used when baking but the question here is – which is more nutritious?
Below we’ll discuss the benefits of ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil to determine which is more advantageous.
Round 1 – Omega-3 Content
If you’re here then you’re probably already aware that flaxseed products are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil is the knockout champion for this round with 50% omega-3 alpha linolenic acid (ALA) in comparison to the 20% found in ground flaxseed.If you’re looking to increase the amount of omega-3 you consume, then the obvious choice is flaxseed oil. This applies especially to individuals suffering from cardiovascular health problems, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure or even cancer.
Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) found in flaxseed oil is also relatively easier to assimilate since it has a lower level of fiber than ground flaxseed. Both provide a good source of omega-3 but flaxseed oil stands out as the best ‘plant-based source’ of omega-3. I specified ‘plant-based source’ because fish oil is the best overall choice if you want to increase your omega-3 intake.
Flaxseed oil contains alpha linolenic acid which has to be broken down to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) once consumed. Fish oil on the other hand is a natural source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) so there is no need for conversion.
There has been some speculation that fish oil offers the same benefits as flaxseed oil but an important point to note here is that the human body is not efficient in converting ALA to DHA and EPA. Studies have shown that it is even harder for individuals who consume large amount of saturated animal fats (as most Westerners do) to convert ALA into DHA and EPA, especially in men.
Another factor that may influence the conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA is the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic. Linoleic (LA) is an essential fatty acid that we consume from the food we eat. The same enzymes that are needed to convert LA into arachidonic acid (AA) which is responsible for inflammation in muscle tissue is also needed to convert ALA to DHA and EPA. Given this fact, it’s plausible that consuming a diet rich in omega-6 fatty acid can reduce the conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA. On this note, another thing to remember is that flaxseed oil contains both omega 3 and omega-6. Both have anti-inflammatory effects and are important for cell membrane repair and blood pressure regulation.
Lastly, bear in mind that not all omega-3 fatty acids offer the same benefits, for example EPA and DHA naturally found in fish oil have a great effect on inflammation, arthritis and heart disease.
Round 2 – Lignans Benefits
Flaxseed oil took the first round but it’s still too early to name a winner with its opponent claiming this round. Ground flaxseed is one of the best source of lignans, with about 80 grams per ounce of ground meal. Flaxseed oil does not have a large count of lignans, mainly because most of it is lost during the extraction process. If you decide to use flaxseed oil it’s better to buy from manufacturers like Barleans, who tend to add back the lignans into the oil after the extraction process. This is the best option for those of you who want to get sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids and at the same time receive an adequate amount of lignans.
Lignans are phytonutrients that are very important for women due to effect they have on hormone levels. They help women avoid severe hormonal health issues, such as;endometrial and breast cancer, they can also relieve symptoms of menopause and help to strengthen the immune system due to their high antioxidant properties.
Lignans are also beneficial to men since they work to inhibit certain enzymes required to convert testosterone to DHT. Lower DHT in men can improve the health of their prostate. Lignans have also been linked to lower counts of cardiovascular disease in both men and women.
Round 3 – Fiber Content
This round gives us a tiebreaker with ground flaxseed coming out on top. It contains a higher amount of fiber than you will find in the oil. 1 tablespoon of grounded flaxseed may contain as much as 2 grams of dietary fiber. Dietary soluble fiber provides the human body with a lot of benefits. It works to lower cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, it also maintains blood sugar levels and helps to improve bowel movements. Flaxseed oil does not contain any fiber (as do most oils) making grounded flaxseed the clear winner.
The Final Round – Additional Nutrients
Ground flaxseed is also rich in minerals such as copper, manganese and magnesium. To make things more interesting it’s a great source of vitamin E and the B vitamins, namely riboflavin, niacin,B6, folic acid and thiamine. Flaxseed oil does not have an equal amount of vitamins and minerals, as with the lignans, most of them are lost when the oil is being extracted. On the other hand, oil that has not been refined can have a higher concentration of vitamin E than ground flaxseed. It may contain 2 mg of antioxidant vitamin E in every tablespoon of oil.
Ground Flaxseed vs. Flaxseed Oil
Ding, ding, ding – the battle has ended but do we have a winner. So far we’ve established that flaxseed oil is a better choice for those of you looking to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acid and antioxidant vitamin E content. On the other hand, ground flaxseed has a good supply of lignans, fiber, minerals and vitamins that are beneficial to the body. In my opinion it all depends on what you are lacking. If you need omega-3 fatty acids the obvious choice is flaxseed oil. If you’re looking to get the benefits of the omega-3s as well as minerals and fibers, opt for ground flaxseed. Personally, I like to ensure that both items are in my kitchen cabinet so I can use them alternately. With that said, I leave it up to you to decide on a true winner.