If you’re a health-conscious person, chances are you’ve come across the idea of incorporating flaxseed or fish oil into your diet to get the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. However, what many people don’t realize is that these oils can be harmful. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the hidden dangers of unsaturated fats and explore why it’s important to be mindful of where your food comes from and how it’s processed.

The Science Behind Unsaturated Fats

Before we dive into the specifics of flaxseed and fish oil, let’s take a step back and understand the science behind unsaturated fats. All fats are made up of chains of carbon atoms, and the number of hydrogen atoms attached to these chains determines whether a fat is saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats have all of their carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms, which makes them solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, have fewer hydrogen atoms and are liquid at room temperature.

Saturated vs Unsaturated fatty acids- Definition, 20 Differences, Examples

Flaxseed Oil: More Unsaturated Than You Think

If you’ve ever used linseed oil to season a cast iron pan, you may have wondered about its safety for consumption. Flaxseed oil is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is thought to be essential for human health. However, flaxseed oil is also one of the most unsaturated oils available, missing six hydrogens in its structure. The more unsaturated an oil, the more likely it is to undergo oxidative stress, which can cause harm to the body.

Flaxseed oil has been the subject of much debate in the health and wellness community. While it has been traditionally marketed as a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids, recent research suggests that consuming flaxseed oil can have harmful effects on the body.

According to a study published in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease, unsaturated fatty acids like those found in flaxseed oil can generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can lead to cell damage and inflammation. Another study published in the the NFS Journal found that flaxseed oil is particularly susceptible to rancidity due to its high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, leading to a shorter shelf life compared to other oils.

When consumed, flaxseed oil breaks down into a plastic-like substance, which can accumulate in the body over time and potentially lead to health problems like inflammation and heart disease. Additionally, flaxseed oil is often heavily processed, which can strip away any potential health benefits it may have had in its natural state. As a result, many health experts now recommend avoiding flaxseed oil altogether and instead opting for whole food sources of omega-3s, such as fatty fish.

Fish Oil: The Most Unsaturated Fat Available

Fish oil is commonly marketed as a health food that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain function, heart health, and reducing inflammation. However, what many people don’t realize is that fish oil and related supplements can be just as dangerous as flaxseed oil when consumed in excess.

According to the Mayo Clinic, taking high doses of fish oil supplements can increase the risk of bleeding, which can be dangerous for people who are taking blood-thinning medications or have bleeding disorders. Another study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that consuming high levels of fish oil supplements can increase the risk of prostate cancer in men.

In addition to these risks, fish oil is also highly unsaturated, with up to 12 missing hydrogens in its structure. This makes it more prone to oxidation and rancidity, leading to a shorter shelf life compared to other oils. According to a combination of global studies published since 2015, 20% of fish oil products have excess oxidation, which is a risk factor for formation of harmful compounds that can cause oxidative damage to cells and tissues.

brown and yellow medication tablets

A recent study delved into the potential benefits of omega-3, a frequently touted component found in fish oil extracts, for reducing the risk of heart problems in individuals at high risk for heart disease. The study compared the effects of omega-3 CA with those of corn oil, which was supposed to do nothing. The results showed that there was no significant difference in the number of heart problems between the two groups.

In other words, taking omega-3 CA did not seem to help reduce the risk of heart problems in high-risk individuals. However, the group taking omega-3 CA did experience more stomach problems than the group taking corn oil. It’s important to keep in mind that while omega-3 fatty acids can have health benefits, this study suggests that taking a specific formulation of these fatty acids may not be effective in reducing the risk of heart problems.

What Should You Do Instead?

If you’re looking to get the benefits of healthy fats, it’s best to stick to whole foods. While flaxseed and fish oil can be high in essential fatty acids, they can also be highly unsaturated and prone to oxidation and rancidity, leading to potential health risks when consumed in excess. Beef tallow contains small amounts of necessary fats and can be a good option for cooking and adding flavor to dishes. It’s also worth considering alternative oils that are rich in healthy fats and lower in unsaturated fatty acids.

One such alternative is olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and has been linked to several health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and improving heart health. According to a study published in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, consuming olive oil as part of a Mediterranean-style diet can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Another alternative is coconut oil, which is rich in medium-chain fatty acids and has been linked to several health benefits, such as improving brain function and promoting weight loss. According to a study published in the journal Circulation, consuming coconut oil can lead to an increase in good cholesterol levels and a decrease in bad cholesterol levels.

In addition to these alternatives, there are several other oils that can be a good source of healthy fats, such as avocado oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and has a high smoke point, making it a good option for cooking at high temperatures. Similarly, beef tallow rich in saturated fatty acids and has been shown to improve cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation in the body.

raw fish meat on brown chopping board

When it comes to getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, natural sources such as high quality fish can be a better alternative than fish oil extracts. Consuming fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel just once a week can provide your body with the necessary omega-3s without the potential risks associated with extracts.

Eating whole fish also provides additional health benefits beyond just omega-3s, such as vitamins, minerals, and protein. Plus, choosing high quality fish ensures that you’re getting a nutrient-dense and sustainable source of omega-3s.

By incorporating fatty fish into your diet, you can reap the benefits of omega-3s while enjoying a delicious and nutritious meal.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it’s essential to be aware of the dangers of unsaturated fats and the potential harm they can cause to your body. Flaxseed and fish oil may be marketed as healthy, but they can be just as harmful as they are helpful. By sticking to real foods and avoiding processed extracts, you can ensure that you’re consuming healthy fats that are beneficial for your overall well-being. Remember to be mindful of where your food comes from and how it’s processed to make informed decisions about your health.


Willow Brennan is the editor of SeedOils.com, a blog focused on health and wellness. With an interest in botany and holistic medicine, Willow has become obsessed with the use of fruit oils and animal fats for improving overall health. Before starting her homestead life with her family, she had a short career as a park ranger, where she fell in love with the outdoors and the importance of preserving natural habitats. When not writing or tending to her homestead, Willow indulges in her love of photography and capturing the beauty of nature. Feel free to email her at Editor@SeedOils.com.

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