Thursday, January 20, 2011

Omega 3 Power Seeds: Chia, Hemp And Flax - What They Can And Cannot Do For Vegans. Omega 6 Rich Foods That Can Interfere With The Body's Ability To Make EPA & DHA If Eaten In Excess.

Chia seeds on top, hemp seeds on left and flaxseeds on right.
Omega 3 - Still a Hot Topic
I wrote an extensive post on this in 2009. But it's such an important topic, I want to discuss it further, especially as it relates to vegan nutrition.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid critical for heart health, brain development, reducing inflammation and joint pain, managing depression, preventing dry eyes, lowering cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, protecting bone health and more. There are 3 types of omega 3 fatty acids, each of which are needed in the diet and have unique beneficial qualities:
ALA - Alpha-linolenic alcid is the omega 3 found in our power seeds, chia, hemp and flax, as well as other sources such as English walnuts and some fruits and vegetables. This is the omega 3 that you get from plant sources.
EPA  (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are generally found in fish and some algae and are said to be the most beneficial of the omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are especially critical during pregnancy for the development of the baby's brain, nervous system and retinas. Studies have shown that pregnant women whose diets were higher in DHA had offspring with higher IQ scores.
The body partially converts plant ALA omega 3 to EPA and DHA. Where the debate lies is whether or not vegans, especially pregnant or lactating vegans, can count of this conversion to get sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA. Some studies show the conversion rate to be extremely small. Information given at an Integrative Mental Health conference I attended indicated that some people were unable to make the conversion at all. If you avoid fish, I personally wouldn't count on getting everything you need from plant sources. Here's what you can do.
What's a Vegan to do?
* Eating power seeds like chia, flax and hemp which contain plant based ALA omega 3 fatty acids is still very beneficial. Besides the conversion to DHA and EPA, albeit small, they are an excellent source of energy and other nutrients. We'll discuss their individual benefits later.
* Vegans should be very conscious of how much omega 6 they consume. Conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA is greatly diminished when you consume too many plant foods containing omega 6. Although in the past a 4 to 1 omega 6 to omega 3 ratio has been recommended to vegans for optimal conversion, some experts now recommend a ratio closer to 1 to 1. Unfortunately, the American diet is closer to 14 or 20 to 1. We'll talk more about this in a bit.

Comparing Power Seeds


Chia seeds per ounce
Flaxseeds per ounce
Hemp seeds per ounce
Calories
137
150
162
Omega 3
4.9 g
6.4 g
2.8 g
Omega 6 
1.6 g
1.7 g
7.0 g
Omega 6 to  omega 3 ratio
0.33 to 1
0.26 to 1
2.5 to 1
Protein
4g
5g
10.3 g
Fiber
11 g
8 g
1 g
Calcium
177 mg
71.4 mg
38.9 mg


Omega 3 winner
Flaxseeds are the clear winner in both the amount of omega 3 and the ratio to omega 6. Each ounce (approximately 3 tablespoons) provides over 6 grams of ALA omega 3 and has 4 times the amount of omega 3 as omega 6. Although you actually need more omega 6 than omega 3, you are probably eating other foods that tip the scale the other way so overall, by eating flaxseeds, you will get closer to where you need to be. 
Flaxseeds are also the least expensive of the three. They are also pretty high in fiber and a very good source of thiamin and manganese. Try making Raw Crackers with flaxseeds or just throw ground flaxseeds in your smoothies or over hot oatmeal. 
The High Fiber Champion
Chia seeds have the most fiber with a whopping 11 grams of dietary fiber per ounce. A diet high in fiber helps you lose weight, lowers cholesterol, stabilizes blood sugar levels and helps prevent constipation.  I love creating chia seed recipes. They make great desserts (like Vegan Chocolate Chia Pudding), salad dressings (see Raw Vegan Waldorf Salad with Apple Chia Dressing ) and you can use them in smoothies (try Apple Cinnamon Smoothie with Chia Seeds and Goji Berries). 
They are also extremely high in omega 3, providing almost 5 grams per ounce,  with three times as much omega 3 as omega 6. They certainly give flaxseeds a run for their money in this department. Chia seeds are also an excellent source of calcium so for all of us who avoid dairy, this is an important food.
The Protein Powerhouse
Although hemp seeds are also a very good source of omega 3, providing nearly 3 grams per ounce, they are known for their high protein content weighing in at 10.3 grams of quality protein per ounce of hemp seeds. Nutiva makes an excellent Organic Shelled Hempseed product that we enjoy. Another company that makes some wonderful hemp products, like hempmilk and hemp ice cream, is Living Harvest
They are All Winners!
All three of these power seeds are winners. I include at least one and sometimes all of them in my diet daily, especially if I'm eating foods high in omega 6. 
Foods Rich in Omega 6
The reason the balance of omega 6 to omega 3 is so high in the American diet is because our diets are filled with nuts, seeds and oils high in omega 6. If you are a vegan who doesn't supplement with DHA and EPA, this can be a real problem. 


Nuts and Seeds and their Omega 6 Content






Nuts and Seeds
 Omega 6 per ounce
Omega 3 per ounce
Ratio of omega 6 to omega 3
English walnuts
10,666 mg
2,542 mg
4 to 1
Pecans
  5,777 mg
   276 mg
21 to 1
Pistachio nuts
  3,818 mg
     73 mg
52 to 1
Sesame seeds
  7,063 mg
     74 mg
96 to 1
Poppy seeds
  7,921 mg
     76 mg
104 to 1
Pumpkin seeds*
  5,797 mg
     51 mg
114 to 1
Pine nuts
  9,410 mg
     31 mg
300 to 1
Brazil nuts
  5,758 mg
       5 mg
1150 to 1
Almonds
  3,378 mg
       2 mg
1987 to 1
Peanuts
  4,393 mg
     <1 mg
5500 to 1

* Pumpkin seed values vary widely across several sources, some of which showing them to have a much more favorable omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. To be consistent, all information here is from SELFNutritionData.


All nuts are very high in omega 6 fatty acid which can prevent your body from converting ALA omega 3 fatty acid to the more beneficial DHA and EPA fatty acids. English walnuts are extremely high in omega 6 but have the best "balance" of omega 6 to omega 3. Peanuts are the absolute worst because they have practically no omega 3 to balance out the omega 6. If almond and peanut butter are staples in your diet, and you avoid fish, you are at risk for being deficient in DHA and EPA. I'm certainly not suggesting that all vegans should avoid eating nuts as there are many Health Benefits of Nuts and Seeds. Just make sure you eat plenty of omega 3 power seeds to balance out the omega 6 and you supplement with an algae derived omega 3 supplement.


Oils and their Omega 6 Content








Oils
Omega 6 per ounce
Omega 3 per ounce
Ratio of omega 6 to omega 3
Coconut oil
     504 mg
           0 mg

Flaxseed oil
  3,556 mg
14,925 mg
.24 to 1
Canola oil
  5,221 mg
  2,559 mg
2 to 1
Walnut oil
14,810 mg
  2,912 mg
5 to 1
Olive oil
21,088 mg
  1,644 mg
13 to 1
Sunflower oil
  1,010 mg
        54 mg
19 to 1
Corn oil
14,983 mg
     325 mg
46 to 1
Peanut oil
  8,961 mg
           0 mg

Sesame oil
11,565 mg
        84 mg
138 to 1
Grapeseed oil
19,485 mg
        28 mg
696 to 1
Safflower oil
20,892 mg
          0 mg


Looking at this chart, you can understand why the American diet has such a poor omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. Many baked goods, pre-made salad dressings and chips are made with safflower oil which has the highest content of omega 6 and has no omega 3. Corn oil is also popular and has an unfavorable 46 to 1 ratio. Flaxseed oil, with its stellar content of omega 3, unfortunately cannot be used for cooking but it can be used in salad dressings. To get the best flavor and omega 3 benefits, mix some flaxseed oil in with extra virgin olive oil when making a salad dressing. Canola oil has a good ratio but make sure you buy one that is organic and GMO free. Most of them are not! Coconut oil is very low in omega 6 and makes a good substitute for butter when baking. It also is a good oil to use in raw food dessert recipes as it firms up when chilled.
Should I supplement?
Most DHA and EPA Omega 3 supplements contain fish oil and vegans, of course, avoid fish. But now there are products that contain both EPA and DHA that are derived from algae. The reason fish contain omega 3 is because they eat algae so why not go directly to the source! Check out V-Pure Omega 3. Whether you are pregnant or not, adding a DHA and EPA source of omega 3 to your diet would be a good addition to eating power seeds. 
V-Pure Omega 3
Vegan V-Pure contains 20 mg EPA and 400 mg DHA
Here's a Quick Summary
* Plant based omega 3 fatty acids are critical to your health so eat lots of chia, flax and hemp seeds.
* Your body may be able to make some EPA and DHA from these plant based  omega 3's if you are healthy and VERY careful about your omega 6 to omega 3 balance.
* HOWEVER, vegans still may be at risk for EPA and DHA deficiency so it's wise to take a daily supplement.
* If you are a pregnant vegan, supplementation is extremely important for the development of your baby's brain, nervous system and retinas.
* If you are not vegan and eat fish rich in omega 3, DHA and EPA conversion is not an issue but eating plant based omega 3 fatty acids still provides additional health benefits.


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21 comments:

Shelley said...

I'm so thankful that I found your blog. I use all of those. I appreciate gaining more info. I look forward to following your blog!! :)

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Thanks Shelley.
I see, from your blog, that you recently met Bob Harper. That must have been quite a treat!

Kathyvan said...

I have been using these four foods for life for the past year plus red maca and probiotics. The benefits are amazing. I have never felt better in my life. My doctor is amazed too. No more high cholesterol, my last bone density test shows no more osteoporosis. I have a great diet and exercise program too. I find how good it feels to help my friends learn too. Love your blog.

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Hi Kathy,
Congratulations on conquering osteoporosis! Chia seeds are a calcium powerhouse and I'm sure your great exercise program helped a bunch. You're an inspiration to the many women out there suffering from this terrible disorder.
Thanks for your comments.
Joanne

Anonymous said...

Are you sure supplementing omega 3 from algae-products is right for vegan? krause writes that algae-based products contain DHA only

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

There is a product called V Pure which is algae based and contains both EPA and DHA Omega 3 fatty acids. You can check their website at www.v-pure.com.
Joanne

janey10021 said...

Flax seeds and chia seeds are great sources for Omega 3. The benefit of flax seed and the benefit of chia seeds are many. Both flax seed and chia seeds contain fiber, Omega-3 and lignans. This helps lower cholesterol and can also benefit people at risk for diabetes by regulating blood sugar by slowing down the body's absorption of sugar. Flax seed and chia seeds are also both great sources for antioxidants.

Hemp Man said...

I love Organic Hemp Oil which I buy from Hemp Foods Australia as they also farm industrial hemp. I know that if I keep a balanced diet then there is nothing like hemp seed oil to keep everything perfectly in balance. I do still love flax and chia, but soaking them or chewing them is not as fun. Taste taste taste! That should have been included in this article!

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

You are right! Hemp is absolutely delicious. The oil is wonderful in salad dressings and we throw hemp seeds over almost everything!
Joanne

Anonymous said...

Where did you get the idea that we need more omega-6 tahn we do omega-3? Too much 6 causes inflammation (ie arthritis). Thanks

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Omega-6 is an "essential" fatty acid that plays an important role in the development of the nervous system, cholesterol metabolism, growth and reproduction. Adult men require 17 grams per day and women require about 12 grams. The problem is that people eat way more than that and do not consume enough omega-3. That imbalance contributes to inflammation and all of the diseases that are created from inflammation, like heart trouble and arthritis. So the bottom line is to make sure you're not eating too much omega-6 and to get enough omega-3.
Take care,
Joanne

dyannne said...

This website won't open for me. Safari can't find it: www.v-pure.com ... is that the right one? Did they go out of business?

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

I just checked and, you are right, the link has changed to http://www.nuique.com/v-pure-omega3/.
Thanks,
Joanne

Michael B. said...

Thought you might like this... @ http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/pdf/1743-7075-7-32.pdf

The cardiac and haemostatic effects of dietary hempseed.

"The LA:ALA ratio normally exists in hempseed at between 2:1 and 3:1 levels. This proportion has been proposed to be ideal for a healthy diet."

Hemp is clearly superior to flax and chia for omega 6 to omega 3.

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Yes, hemp has a good proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 but these seeds are not the only thing in the diet. If a person eats foods heavy in omega-6, you might want to eat flax that has more omega-3. But they are all power seeds and it's beneficial to include all three of them in your diet.
Thanks for the article!
Joanne

Dorothy Reilly said...

Joanne I"m so thankful for this post. I've got high Lipid peroxides and I think these seeds may help. You have given us lots of information in one place.
Appreciatively,
Darr

Laura Scalia said...

Diagnosed with fibromyalgia ten years ago. I now know that I have a genetic mitochondria disease. I wish I had known all of this, about omega 3's, ten years ago. I am on 1200mg coq10 - and have recently discovered the power of 6000g of omega 3 daily.
I am wondering what you think about this high amount - and do you see any side affects?

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Hi Laura,
I have seen recommendations of 2 to 4 grams of omega-3 for fibromyalgia. I am not as familiar with how much to take for genetic mitochondria disease. Six grams is a pretty high dosage considering omega-3 can thin the blood. Taking more than 3 grams daily should only be done with the help of a specialist in this particular disorder. Some experts would suggest that a dosage of 6 g per day could lead to bleeding.
CoQ10 and omega-3 have both been successfully used to treat a number of health issues but please take care that you are not using too much of a good thing.
Good luck with your health journey.
Joanne

Oana said...

Quoting from your text: " Although you actually need more omega 6 than omega 3, ... "

It's the other way aroud, but a 4:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is still healthy

Maria Vickers said...

does anybody know how long chia seeds last,God bless from daithi

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

If you keep them in the freezer, they will last a long time (6 months or more).
Joanne