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Hemp and Flax Seeds and Oil in Modern Nutrition An Overview The Omega Issue Omega 3 Omega 6

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Hemp and Flax Seeds and Oil in Modern Nutrition An Overview The Omega Issue Omega 3 Omega 6 ( hemp-and-flax-seeds-and-oil-modern-nutrition-an-overview-the )

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Hemp and Flax Seeds and Oil in Modern Nutrition An Overview The “Omega Issue” Flax (linseed) and hemp, two seed crops grown in the Canadian Prairies, are finding growing demand in the North American market for “natural foods”. Both are primarily promoted and consumed as plant-based sources of “omega- 3” fatty acids. What makes omega- 3 intake so important? Mounting scientific evidence links many common ailments to an imbalance in the intake of omega-3 vs. omega-6 fatty acids in the typical Western diet: too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. The typical North American diet contains 10 to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids, yet nutritional scientists recommend maintaining a ratio of between 2:1 to 4:1, i.e., a much higher relative omega-3 consumption. Many clinical studies implicate this imbalance as a key factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders and have demonstrated the benefits of a balanced dietary omega-3/omega-6 intake. Such benefits include a reduced risk of atherosclerosis, sudden cardiac death, and some forms of cancer, alleviation of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, mood improvement in bipolar disorders, and optimized development in infants. It is this proven need to increase relative omega-3 intake that ultimately drives public attention to, and growing demand for, plant and animal based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Figure 1 visualizes the metabolic pathways for the nutritionally two most important families of fatty acids, starting with their respective “essential fatty acids” (EFAs), i.e., alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA). EFAs cannot be produced by our body and, like vitamins, must be consumed with the diet. Not all omega-3s are equally “potent”. Clinical studies show that even healthy persons convert only a fraction of ingested ALA to the ultimately needed omega-3s EPA and DHA and their respective “prostaglandins”. Summary Both flax and hemp seeds are rich plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids and other valuable nutrients. Flax oil, with a very high content of the essential omega-3 fatty acid ALA, is an excellent supplement but flavor and stability limit its uses. Hemp oil offers a more balanced fatty acid spectrum, including the higher omega-3 SDA; the seeds also provide a reasonably well-balanced protein, significant amounts of vitamin E complex compounds and trace minerals. Their composition, taste, and culinary diversity make hemp oil and seeds a promising staple in the growing North American market for “natural foods”.

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