Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
1) What are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and why do
I need them?
is the suggested daily intake of EFAs?
you take too much EFA?
flax a safe source of Omega 3 fats?
1) What are Essential
Fatty Acids (EFAs) and why do I need them?
There are 50 or so essential nutrients that are needed in
the human diet to maintain health. These include vitamins,
minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids (EFAs). The
EFAs are identified as omega-3 EFA (or alpha-linolenic acid)
and omega-6 EFA (linoleic acid). A deficiency in either progressively
results in poor health. Like other essential nutrients, the
human body cannot function without these EFAs in the diet.
EFAs function as building blocks for membranes of every cell
in the body. They also produce "prostaglandin families,"
which are hormone-like substances necessary for energy metabolism
and cardiovascular and immune health. Brain and nerve tissue
consist of over 50% EFAs! See the Benefits of Omega-3 and
6 for more information.
2) What is the suggested daily usage
The daily usage of EFAs for most adult males and females
is 1-2 tsp of Flax Seed Oil or Essential Balance® Oil.
Usage for The New Family Formula Essential Balance® Junior Oil™
- 6 months - 2 yrs. - 1/4 tsp. every
- 2 yrs. - 5 yrs. - 1/2 tsp. daily
- 5 yrs. - 12 yrs 1 tsp. daily
- 13 yrs and up - 2-3 tsp. daily
- Pregnant and nursing mothers - 1-3 tsp. daily
Can you take too much EFA?
Yes - you can take too much of anything. Fat intake should
make up no more than 30% of one's total calorie intake. The
recommended intake for polyunsaturated fats, Omega-3 and Omega-6,
is 5%-10% of one's total calories. Fats are a more concentrated
energy source per gram than carbohydrates or protein; fats
provide 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and protein
provide 4 calories per gram.
Taking too much flaxseed oil can overload the liver with
fats. The liver is responsible for breaking down and restructuring
nutrients and excess fats can hinder the liver's filtering
process. Normally, if you follow the recommended intake of
no more than 30% of daily calories from fat you are within
safe and healthy dosages.
Certain health conditions require adjusted levels of fat
intake, you should check with your health professional when
deciding the level of fat intake that works best for your
personal health program.
Is flax a safe source of
Omega 3 fats?
Flaxseed and Flax Seed Oil are currently recognized as appropriate
sources of omega-3 fatty acids by several US government agencies,
including USDA and NIH. These agencies have held conferences
and workshops on the importance of omega-3 fat , which have
included recommendations for consuming flaxseed.
There are, however, present-day challengers on the Internet
to the use of flax as food. The Now Age Press website is
a typical example. Critics take issue with any statement
made in recent years that refers to flaxseed as having a
history as a "staple" food in any culture. These critics
will admit only to the use of flaxseed as food in times of
famine. In addition to their challenge to the notion of the
use of flaxseed or flaxseed oil as food in antiquity, as
well as to aspects of safety related to the presence of lignans
and various anti-nutrients such as cyanogenic glycosides
in flaxseed, the writers for these websites make substantive
mistakes about composition, stating, for example, that hemp
oil has levels of omega-3 fatty acids as high as flax oil.
Actually, flax oil contains about 60 percent of total fatty
acids as omega-3 fatty acids, compared to about 20 percent
for hemp oil.
When we search out historical documents written a century
ago, however, we are presented with another view. The 1911
edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica reported that "Linseed
[flaxseed] formed an article of food among the Greeks and
Romans, and it is said that the Abyssinians at the present
day eat it roasted. The oil is to some extent used as food
in Russia and in parts of Poland and Hungary."
The article also describes concern voiced over ". . . direct
adulterations. . . [by]. . . admixture of cheaper and inferior
oil-seeds. . . ." In 1864, a union of traders of linseed
oil was formed in England to prevent this adulteration by
monitoring all imported oil.
The more recent Cambridge World History of Food records
the use of flaxseed oil for cooking in Russia in the 19th
Century and the use of seeds for making tea.
A recent text on flaxseed, edited by researchers at the
University of Toronto, contains discussions of historical
uses as a food, both directly and indirectly. In the introduction,
we learn that the edible flaxseed was the one predominantly
grown in India, that flaxseed is consumed in the diet as
oil in China, that it is consumed in Ethiopia in a stew (wat),
as a porridge (gufmo), and as a drink (chilka), and has been
part of the traditional foods in Egypt since the time of
In the US, the earliest record in Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) writings raises the question of GRAS status for flaxseed
use in foods. This appears in correspondence to the FDA in
1948 when the food industry initiated an inquiry about the
use of flax in cereal foods. The FDA originally declined
the GRAS status request because the use of flax, as (or in)
food prior to 1958, was in other countries and not in the
US. In addition, the FDA indicated concern about untreated
flaxseed being a source of toxic hydrocyanic acid and posted
an import alert in 1978; this decision was abandoned in 1982
when the import alert was canceled and flaxseed was permitted
in bread in levels of 10-12 percent. The agency stated that
there was no concern that there would be ". . . any more
exposure to hydrogen cyanide than from other foods such as
lima beans, fava beans, chickpeas, cassava, yams, cashews
or almonds. . . "
Researchers from two universities evaluated flaxseed powder
consumption in women and reported that the lignans were
normally metabolized by the microflora in the gut. These
researchers reported that the possible cyanide exposure from
60 grams of raw flaxseed in healthy individuals is not hazardous;
further they indicated that raw flaxseed is traditionally
consumed in 10-gram amounts (approximately 1 tablespoon).
So how much flaxseed, or flaxseed oil is appropriate and
unquestionably safe? The recommendation from the US government
agencies is usually 2 tablespoons of flaxseed per day to
supply omega-3 fatty acids for a 2000 kcal diet. (The flaxseed
needs to be ground in order for the proper digestion of the
seeds to take place.) Two tablespoons of flaxseed is about
20 grams of seed and since there is about 40 percent oil
in the seeds and about 50-60 percent omega-3 in the oil,
20 grams of seed could provide about 8 grams of flaxseed
oil and about 4 grams alpha-linolenic acid, the basic omega-3
fatty acid. Four grams of omega-3 fatty acids is about 36
calories, which is slightly more than the usual recommendation
of 1.5 percent of calories for a 2000 calorie intake. The
amount of flaxseed oil needed to provide this much omega-3
is about 1.5 to 2 tsp per day.8 If you are getting omega-3
fatty acids from other sources in your diet, then the recommended
amount of flaxseed oil would be less. (To be continued.)
- Meetings on essential fats in 2000 at NIH and 2001 at
- The Now Age Press website
- The Encyclopaedia Britannica , Eleventh Edition, New
York, 1911, Volume 16, pp. 734-735.
- The Cambridge World History of Food , Cambridge University
Press, UK, 2000, pp. 1230, 1242.
- A. Judd. "Flax-Some Historical Considerations" in Flaxseed
in Human Nutrition , S.C. Cunnane and I.U. Thompson, Editors,
AOCS Press, Champaign, IL, 1995, pp. 1-10.
- J.E. Vanderveen. "Regulation of Flaxseed as a Food Ingredient
in the United States" in Flaxseed in Human Nutrition ,
S.C. Cunnane and I.U. Thompson, Editors, AOCS Press, Champaign,
IL, 1995, pp. 363-366.
- J.W. Lampe, M.C. Martini, M.S. Kurzer, H. Adlercreutaz,
J.L. Slavin. Urinary lignan and isoflavonoid excretion
in premenopausal women consuming flaxseed powder. American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition . 1994;60:122-128.
- M.G. Enig. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding
the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol . Bethesda
Press, 2000, p. 106.
Answer courtesy of The
Weston A. Price Foundation.