Omega Oils

Omega oils essential for vegan dietOur modern diet is low in some essential foods, foods we need to stay alive and healthy.
Two important ones are the omega oils, also called "essential fatty acids". They are an essential ingredient in our cell membranes, so especially affect our skin quality, resistance to disease, nerves and brain. Dry skin, splitting or peeling cuticles, tiredness, muzziness, always going down with bugs, headaches, inflammations, aching joints - these are some things they can help (but always consult a doctor too!).

The essential oils belong to the family of "polyunsaturates." But be careful, because many polyunsaturates are not essential, and some may even be harmful.
Our bodies can usually make other important oils from the essential ones, including several polyunsaturates (such as EPA and DHA). It helps if you can eat some of these in your diet too, so that your body can save the essential ones for where they are needed most. But for a few people, their bodies cannot make EPA and/or DHA, and for such people these are also essential oils. So if in doubt, consult your doctor!

Where to find them

You get a small amount from most fresh greens and freshly-ground whole wheat flour.  But if you don't eat enough of these - and let's face it, most of us don't - read on.

The essential oil in shortest supply is ALA (omega 6). It is found in the seeds, or the seed oils, of:

Flax (linseed) - the richest natural source.
Hemp* (yes, some shops do stock them and no, you don't get high) - nature's perfectly balanced oil seed, but crunchy husk.
Rape (but not the "canola" variety) - ok, supplement with flax. Bland taste, love it or hate it.
Walnut - ok, supplement with flax.
Pumpkin seed - ok, the oil can be a little bitter. Supplement with flax.

The other essential oil is LNA. It is found in quite a few places, especially the seeds, or the seed oils, of:

Safflower - the richest natural seed source. Don't over-indulge!
Evening primrose - the richest seed oil source, but the seeds don't contain much oil. Don't over-indulge the oil!
Avocado - the flesh, not the seed - but you knew that.
Pumpkin - the oil can be a little bitter.
Hemp* - nature's perfectly balanced oil seed, but crunchy husk.

*Hemp seeds and seed oil can contain traces of the drug THC, in far too small a quantity to get high, but enough to be detected by a drug test. Some shops do stock them and they are a very well-balanced food, so do try to find them. The essential oils go off very quickly, so should be kept away from light, heat and air - they'll keep up to a week or so in the fridge once opened. Dont be put off by this, they last longer than the milk you are used to keeping in the fridge! They are destroyed by commercial processing, so always buy FRESH COLD PRESSED. Pesticides often concentrate in fats and oils, so it is best to buy ORGANIC whenever possible.

How much should you eat?

Different people require very different amounts, depending on your ethnic (ie genetic) makeup and on how much sun you get (ie where and how you live). Udo Erasmus, the world authority on essential oils, believes that the best guides to how much to eat are your stomach and taste buds: experts often have pet theories to push, and rigid diets usually best suit the inventor. I am only partly convinced by this, as many of us do not have trustworthy eating habits! I would suggest - trust yourself unless you get ill, then find a reputable clinician and trust them. About two tablespoons of essential oils a day is a good starter dose, reduced to a about one tablespoon as time goes by. If taking them as whole or ground seed, you'll need about 3 times the volume (2 times the weight) of the pure oil. Do not expect instant results, it takes a few days/weeks before things start to happen, and a year or more for the stuff to get right through your system.

Co-factors To make use of the omega oils, we need other things (co-factors) that are often in short supply:

Zinc - a trace metal most of us don't get enough of.
Selenium - a trace metal few of us Europeans get enough of. White patches on fingernails are one sign of deficiency.
Vitamins A, C, E - protect the oils from breakdown until needed.
Many other lesser vitamins, trace elements and "phytochemicals."

These are removed or inactivated during industrial processing, another reason to always buy your oils FRESH COLD PRESSED. They can also be suppressed or diluted by intensive farming, another reason too to buy ORGANIC. Some are left behind in the seed residue even when fresh cold pressed, so you should eat at least some whole/ground seeds and not just the oils. You may also need additional amounts of some co-fators as dietary supplements, as I do, but don't take my word for it - go and see a qualified practitioner, such as a qualified doctor who also runs a private "holistic" or nutrition clinic or similar.
Recipes Oils - mix flax (linseed) with other oils to get a balanced and tasty oil, e.g:

* 2 parts Flax
* 1 pt Sunflower
* 1 pt Sesame
* 1 pt Walnut, Pumpkin or Hemp

Use wherever you'd use a normal food oil, except:
DO NOT USE FOR FRYING OR GRILLING - this degrades the essential oils.
Seeds. Either eat whole and crunch up well (otherwise, they will pass through undigested), or grind fresh and keep for up to a week in the fridge, in an airtight container.
Breakfast cereal. Sprinkle ground mix or whole seeds on top. Goes especially well with muesli, "crunchy" style oat cereals or Weetabix.
Ice cream. Sprinkle coarse ground mix or whole seeds on top. Yum! Now where's that maple syrup?
Thick shakes. Add a teaspoon of finely-ground flax seeds or seed mix and whizz up. Leave to stand in the fridge for at least half an hour, preferably several hours, to thicken up. Can leave some "wholemealy" bits floating, but if you've put fresh strawberries and a teaspoon of caster sugar in too, who cares? My other favourite is vanilla and agave nectar.
Veg soups and stews. A tablespoon of mixed oils adds body. Add some olive oil too, for that Mediterranean taste.
Tomate alioli. Sliced ripe tomatoes, mixed oils, a dash of olive oil, sea salt. Add fresh crushed garlic to taste. A brilliant summer salad, or with rice or pasta at any time.
Mixed seed butter (tahini). Add a little mixed oil to the ground seed mix (coarse or fine to taste). Spread on bread, toast, etc.
Mixed seed halva. Pound a little agave nectar or golden syrup into the finely-ground seed mix. Cut/press into blocks.
French dressing. Mixed oils, sea salt, pepper and a little vinegar or lemon juice make a great dressing, and for that gourmet touch, add half a clove of freshly crushed garlic.
Orange juice. Briskly stir in a teaspoonful of your favourite oil. Drink. Not to my taste, but several people have told me how much they like it. At least give it a try like I did!

Please use your common sense when applying any of the nutritional information contained within the pages of heathen vegan – they are for guidance only and should in no way take the place of professional help.