Flaxseed oil -- also known as linseed oil -- is a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fat and member of the omega-3 fatty acid family. Omega-3s are prized for their beneficial effects on heart, brain and overall health. Some saturated fatty acids and oleic acid are also present in flaxseed oil. The exact proportion of fatty acids can vary depending on the type of flax and how the seeds are processed.
Types of Flaxseed
Flaxseed comes in a range of colors, from light yellow to dark brown. Brown-seeded flax is generally richer in alpha-linolenic acid, the plant-based parent of the omega-3 fatty acid family. Solin -- the generic name for yellow-seeded flaxseed -- is much lower in ALA than brown flaxseed. However, one variety of yellow flaxseed grown in the United States, Omega, is as rich in ALA as brown flaxseed.
Both brown and Omega flaxseeds are sold in supermarkets, health food stores and other consumer venues. Solin flaxseed is not sold directly to consumers, but may be used in commercially available flaxseed products, such as bread.
Alpha-linolenic acid is the most abundant fatty acid in flaxseed oil, accounting for 35 to 60 percent of its fatty acid composition. One tablespoon contains an average of 7.5 grams of ALA. ALA should not be confused with linoleic acid, which is also present in flaxseed oil. ALA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid, a group which displays anti-inflammatory effects, while linoleic acid is a member of the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid family.
The second-most abundant fatty acid in flaxseed oil is oleic acid, which accounts for about 12 to 35 percent of the fatty acid content. Oleic acid is a type of monounsaturated fat that's also found in olive oil, canola oil, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and pecans. Its been shown to combat blood clots and possibly ischemic heart disease. Monounsaturated fats in general have been linked to lower levels of cholesterol and other heart disease markers.
Other Fatty Acids
Less than 10 percent of the fatty acids in flaxseed oil are the saturated kind. But flaxseed oil does contain some saturated fat, mainly in the form of palmitic acid and stearic acid. As noted above, flaxseed oil also contains linoleic acid, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid in the omega-6 family. Linoleic acid makes up between 17 and 24 percent of the fatty acids in flaxseed oil.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: N-3 Fatty Acids From Vegetable Oils
- Flax Council of Canada: New Flax Facts
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Flaxseed Oil
- Chempro: Fatty Acid Composition of Some Major Oils
- Flax Council of Canada: Description and Composition of Flax
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Are Olive Oil Diets Antithrombotic?
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: High–monounsaturated Fatty Acid Diets Lower Both Plasma Cholesterol and Triacylglycerol Concentrations1,2,3
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