Flax Oil Vs. Flax Seed


In the quest for better health, flax seed and flax-seed (or flax or linseed) oil earn their place among foods valued as heart-healthy for being rich in omega-3 fatty acids. But between the two, flax seed boasts the higher nutrition content and health benefits, as well as a greater versatility when it comes to including it on a regular basis in a daily diet.


For centuries, flax plants have been a food source for both people and animals, and flax seed oil, extracted from pressed flax seed, is used for cooking. Early North American settlers carried flax plants with them and crafted the fibrous stems into linen, and cultivated flax for linseed oil production. Flax-seed fiber is still used to create table and bed linens, paper and clothing, and flax-seed (linseed) oil in paints and coatings, solvents and flooring. The primary uses for flax products today, though, remains food and health products.

Health Benefits

Both flax seed and flax-seed oil contain omega-3 fatty acids, essential fatty acids that studies show reduce the risk and symptoms of heart disease, inflammation, arthritis, stroke, diabetes, and may help prevent some cancers and slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. In relation to health, flax seed trumps flax-seed oil because flax seed's fiber, lignans, protein, vitamins and minerals aren't found in flax-seed oil. The fiber in flax seed acts as a natural laxative, aiding digestive system function and protecting against inflammatory bowel disease. The anti-oxidant benefits of flax seed come from its high levels of lignan, a naturally occurring plant chemical found in the seeds, but not the oil. While not as nutritionally complex as flax seed, flax-seed oil can play a part in healthy eating because it's considered a "good" plant-based fat source, an important consideration for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.


Flax seed is available as whole seeds, or milled or ground. Purchase more easily digestible milled or ground flax seed for the biggest nutritional boost. Flax-seed oil capsules in liquid or soft-gel form can be taken as a supplement in lieu of the oil itself, although for the maximum health benefits, pure flax-seed oil itself is a better choice versus capsules. The capsules must be refrigerated to maintain freshness and potency. The recommended daily intake of flax products for adults is 1 to 2 tbsp. of flax seed or 1 tbsp. of flax-seed oil.


To easily incorporate flax seed into a daily diet, add ground flax seed to yogurt, salads, smoothies, nutritional drinks, hot or cold cereals, rice or pasta dishes, and baked goods. Substitute ground flax seed for part of the fat in baked goods, waffles or pancakes; use 3 tbsp. of flax seed for 1 tbsp. of butter or oil. Although not necessary, if the mixture seems too dry, add 1 tbsp. water for each tablespoon of ground flax seed. Ground flax seed also can substitute for eggs in muffins, pancakes or waffles, although flax seed in place of eggs will result in a denser final product. Instead of one egg, use 1 tbsp. of ground flax seed and 3 tbsp. of water. Flax-seed oil can be added to drinks, or used in place of other oils, but it's not recommended for cooking because it's prone to break down when heated.

Where to Buy

Ground or whole flax seed is readily available at most grocery stores, natural or whole foods markets, and from numerous online sources. Harder to find, the best sources for flax-seed oil are natural or whole foods markets, or online vendors.


Like any dietary supplement, flax seed may negatively interact with some medications and other supplements. Regular use of the omega-3 fatty acid found in flax seed and flax-seed oil can pose a risk to people with type 2 diabetes, schizophrenia, pregnant women, men at risk for prostate cancer, or to those taking certain medications such as blood thinners, or medications to lower blood sugar or cholesterol. Over-use of flax products can also cause an unwanted laxative effect or constipation. Before using any supplement, consult a health-care professional.

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About this Author

Danette Thompson has 30 years experience as a journalist, writing and editing for a chain of community newspapers. Thompson holds an Associate's degree in communication arts from St. Louis Community College at Meramec, Mo. She is also a published author of 12 novels, writing for Harlequin Books under the pseudonym Nicole Foster.

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