Ground Flaxseed vs Flaxseed Oil – Which is Healthier?
Both ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil can have significant nutritional benefits but which one is better for your health? Let’s have a look at the main health benefits and how flaxseed oil stacks up versus flaxseed meal.
The majority of people eating ground flax or taking the oil are doing so because of their incredibly high omega-3 fatty acid content.
Flaxseed oil is generally more than 50% omega-3 alpha linolenic acid (ALA), making it the highest commonly used, plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. The ground seeds, by comparison, are usually around 20% omega-3, which is still very high.
If you are considering either flaxseed oil or the ground seeds primarily to increase your intake of omega-3 fats, then flaxseed oil would be the clear winner. It is also likely that the alpha linolenic acid in the oil would be more easily assimilated than in the ground seeds with their high levels of fiber.
That said, flaxseed meal has other health benefits listed below that make it a more complete dietary supplement and a very nutritious food well worth adding to your diet.
It must also be said that while both the oil and meal are a great way to increase your intake of omega-3’s, fish oil may be an even better choice. The omega-3 fat in flaxseed oil is primarily alpha linolenic acid. This is the parent omega-3 and other very beneficial omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA need to first be converted from it.
Some researchers believe poor diets, too high in saturated animal fats, are making it harder for our bodies to convert ALA to EPA and DHA. Of particular concern is men’s ability to eventually convert ALA to DHA, which is estimated to be a very inefficient conversion.
Fish oil, while not as high in total omega-3 fatty acids, is primarily EPA and DHA. These are the most studied omega-3 fats and nutritionally extremely important.
Balancing this view, alpha linolenic acid that is naturally converted in our bodies to EPA and DHA may have an important role to play beyond supplemental omega-3.
There are also other types of omega-3 fatty acids such as stearidonic acid (SDA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA) and several others. We may not fully understand the importance of all of the various fatty acids that can be derived from ALA, even in small amounts.
Alpha linolenic acid, as the parent omega-3, is classified as essential and definitely worth having in good amounts in your diet. This is particularly relevant due to the high prevalence of omega-6 linoleic acid in modern foods.
We need a balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 fats for good health and cold pressed, unrefined flaxseed oil is one of the most effective ways to positively reduce this ratio.
Lignans are phytonutrients that may be important for women for reducing the risk of hormonal cancers such as breast cancer and endometrial, ovarian and cervical cancer . Flaxseed is by far the highest source with around 80 grams of lignans per ounce of ground meal.
Flaxseed oil by comparison is usually very low in lignans as the process of extracting the oil leaves them behind.
Some manufacturers like Barleans however have come up with high lignan flaxseed oil, where the lignans are added back into the oil after extraction. If you are looking for a good omega-3 supplement, but would still like the added benefit of dietary lignans, flaxseed oil with added lignans would be a great option.
Flax meal is very high in fiber, with 1 tablespoon containing over 2 grams of dietary fiber. Around a quarter of this is the very valuable soluble fiber. Dietary soluble fiber has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels, potentially leading to a lower risk of heart disease.
Flax oil, being an oil, obviously does not contain any fiber so the ground seeds are a clear winner here.
Other Flaxseed Nutrients
Ground flaxseed is usually a good source of the minerals manganese, magnesium and copper. It also contains B vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6 and folic acid and is rich in antioxidant vitamin E.
Flaxseed oil does not have the same variety of minerals and vitamins as they are mostly lost in extraction, with one notable exception. The vitamin E content in unrefined flaxseed oil can be quite concentrated compared to the ground seeds, with around 2 mg of natural vitamin E in a tablespoon of the oil.
Flaxseed Oil or Flaxseed Meal?
In summarizing flaxseed oil vs flax seeds, the oil is a more concentrated form of omega-3 fats and likely vitamin E as well. The ground seeds, on the other hand, while not as high in omega-3, do have the health benefits of lignans, soluble and insoluble fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals.
If you felt you were lacking in omega-3 fatty acids (and a great many of us are) then the oil would be a good choice. However, if you’re looking for a broader range of health benefits while still having a significant source of omega-3, then fresh flaxseed meal could be a beneficial addition to your diet.
Some people, like myself, see more benefit in taking them both. Flaxseed oil seems to have a more powerful effect initially, but there are potentially more health benefits to a couple of tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds each day.