Flaxseed oil versus olive oil: If you have a bottle of each in your kitchen, you may wonder which packs the bigger health punch. Both of them contain unsaturated fats, which the American Heart Foundation (AHA) says are healthy fats to eat as part of a balanced diet.
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The benefits of olive oil are well known, but flaxseed oil also has lots of good things going for it. However, olive is the more versatile of these two oils, from a culinary perspective.
Differing Types of Good Fat
Analysis by the USDA shows that olive oil contains 9.9g of monounsaturated fat, 1.4g of polyunsaturated fat and 1.9g of saturated fat, per tablespoon. Also per the USDA, flaxseed oil contains 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 9.2g of polyunsaturated fat and 1.2g of saturated fat in a similar-sized serving.
These figures point to both oils being healthy, in that they both exhibit low levels of saturated fat, which the AHA says raises cardiovascular disease risk. When comparing the benefits of flaxseed oil and olive oil, there's a big difference in the types of unsaturated fats they contain — flaxseed oil has a very high concentration of polyunsaturates, while one of the benefits of olive oil is that it is predominantly monounsaturated fat.
In fact, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are equally good, as far as your heart health is concerned. Either of them will improve blood cholesterol levels when eaten in place of saturated fat. In turn, this can decrease your risk of heart disease, and possibly type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Omega-3 Benefits of Flaxseed
There's something unusual about the polyunsaturated fats in flaxseed oil, though — they are largely of the omega-3 variety, which makes flax oil an exception among plant oils. Harvard Health Publishing explains that most other plant oils, including safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil contain the more-common omega-6 polyunsaturates.
A tablespoon of flaxseed oil has 7.26g of omega-3 polyunsaturates, according to the USDA. While Harvard Health Publishing says that this can provide a useful omega-3 boost, they recommend that you only consider flaxseed oil as a backup source of omega-3 (with fish oils being the preferred source).
That's because flaxseed oil contains omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is inefficiently converted into the useful eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3s by the body. Fish oil provides EPA and DHA directly, which is why it remains a superior omega-3 source.
Regularly eating fish rich in EPA and DHA has been linked with fewer heart attacks, strokes and cases of cardiac arrest, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Read more: 9 Delicious Recipes Made With Healthy Fats
Both of the oils we've discussed can be part of your healthy diet. However, when weighing up flaxseed oil versus olive oil, you need to take into account that flaxseed oil is much more sensitive to heat.
According to the University of Connecticut, flaxseed oil should only be used for dressings, dips or marinades, as it begins to break down structurally when heated, producing unhealthful by-products such as free radicals. You want to keep flaxseed oil in the refrigerator, away from light.
On the other hand, olive oil can be used more widely, and is OK when heated, though there are differences between different types of olive oil. The University of Connecticut says that extra-virgin oil (with a medium smoke point) is a good all-purpose oil that is suitable for baking, oven-roasting or stir-frying.
Refined or light olive oil, which is paler in color, would be a better choice if you are searing, browning and deep-frying. This type of oil is more chemically stable, and offers a higher smoke point.
Read more: What are the Benefits of Drinking Olive Oil?
- USDA: "Olive Oil"
- USDA: "Flaxseed Oil"
- American Heart Foundation: "The Facts on Fat Infographic"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fats: Know Which Type to Choose"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "No Need to Avoid Healthy Omega-6 Fats"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Why Not Flaxseed Oil?"
- University of Connecticut:"Heart Healthy Cooking Oils"