donate now The Fatty Liver Foundation

Why olive and not flaxseed should be the primary dietary oil

A member was asking about why we didn't use lots of flaxseed oil instead of olive and why use coconut at all since it is so saturated.   This chart illustrates the fact that all of our oils are a mixtures unless they are specially processed.


There is a lot on advice on the internet about supplementing with omegas 3 as lots research supports its value.  Many are also advocating the use of coconut oil.  A few comments about the differences came out of that discussion so I thought I'd pass them along here.

Olive oil is mostly an omega 9 oil where flaxseed is an omega 3.  The two have quite different roles in the body.  While almost all fatty acids can be used to make triglycerides which are the main fuel storage medium for the body, the differences are bio-chemical or how they are processed in the cells and not so much about fat. 

The omega 9 of olive oil is the most efficient in the fundamental energy production of the mitochondria so it produces more energy with fewer by products within the cell so it functions best as the major source of calories.  It has other good benefits such as less inflammation but when you think about what is carrying the calories it is a good choice. 

The omega 3 is critical to balance the omega 6 that has become such a dominant part of our diet.  That is corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils used by big food processors.  Both omegas participate in a similar string of chemical reactions but there is a chemical family called eicosanoids which many other bio-chemical processes use or interact with.  It turns out that all eicosanoids are inflammatory but eicosanoids made from omega 3 are less inflammatory than those made from omega 6.  Our modern diet is weighted heavily toward omega 6 so when you start replacing that with omega 3 you are probably going to function better and feel better.

 The point about coconut oil, particularly for someone dealing with insulin issues, is that it is the one most easily made into brain fuel.  The brain burns only glucose so the lauric acid of coconut provides a way to get energy into the brain without starting with sugar or other carbs.  As a saturated fat it is more inflammatory than unsaturated but as a medium chain fatty acid it falls in the middle so the decision is whether  brain fuel or inflammation management is the personal goal. 

 Like all of these health questions there is always a tradeoff.