If you buy commercially produced eggs you might notice a number of labels on the egg carton denoting size, colour, whether the hens were free-ranged or fed organic feed, and if the eggs contain omega-3 fatty acid.
The human body can make most types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, are essential fats meaning our body can’t produce them so we must get them from food. Omega-3 nutrients are critical to the structure of cell walls, are a source of energy, and support our heart, lungs, blood vessels and immune system.
The best sources are found in fatty fish and fish oils (e.g. mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies and cod liver oil). If you’re like me, only an occasional fish or seafood eater, they can also be found in flax, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, soybeans, vegetable oils, leafy vegetables and Brussel sprouts.
Flax, also known as linseed, is a flowering plant grown for its oil and fibre, which is made into linen. It’s also a good source of dietary fibre, thiamine, magnesium and manganese.
For thousands of years people used wild flax to make textiles by spinning, dying and knotting the plant’s fibres. Flax, one of the oldest cultivated plants, was domesticated about 8000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent (southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and parts of Turkey and Iran) and then spread to Europe, China and India over the next three millennia.
Several studies have indicated that flaxseed’s plant-based chemicals can prevent heart disease and stroke and may inhibit the formation of colon, breast, skin and lung tumors.
A University of Illinois study involving the potential impact of omega-3 fatty acids on ovarian cancer used hens as a model. Chickens are the only animal that spontaneously develops ovarian cancer on the surface of the ovaries similar to women.
The cause of ovarian cancer remains unknown, but one of the most prevalent theories suggests that inflammation associated with continuous ovulation leaves ovarian epithelial cells susceptible to malignant transformation. Approximately 30% of eggs layers develop ovarian cancer due to stresses related to frequent ovulation.
Flaxseed-enriched diets were shown to significantly reduce late-stage ovarian tumours in two-year-old laying hens (hens that have ovulated as many times as a woman entering menopause). They started the flaxseed-supplemented diet at 22 weeks of age, as soon as they started egg laying and before damage from ovulation had accumulated. Though hens fed the flax seed diet didn’t have a decreased risk of ovarian cancer, they did experience fewer late-stage tumors and higher survival rates due to less metastatic spread.
Researchers also found that hens fed the flaxseed diet had better weight control which is important because obesity increases the risk of cancer. Both diets had equal caloric content, however the flaxseed-fed hens weighed less at six months than the control-fed hens. But at 12 months, the flaxseed-fed hens were the same weight and the control-fed hens had loss significant weight, which was indicative of their failing health. The enriched diet helped the birds maintain a healthy weight and resulted in less sickness and death.
Recent research has suggested a link between eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and decreased risk of heart problems. Eggs fortified with omega-3 fatty acids offer an alternative method to increase the amount of these fatty acids in your diet.
You can increase the level of omega-3 fatty acids in the eggs that your hens lay by including flaxseed consistently in their feed. It contains a type of omega-3 fatty acid called a -linolenic acid and hens can deposit a significant amount into the egg yolk. Hens can also convert some of the a -linolenic acid into smaller amounts of other forms of omega-3 fatty acids and deposit them into the egg yolk.
Use Of Flaxseed For Chickens
- Feeding whole seeds are recommended because the fat released can become rancid more quickly once the seed has been ground and won’t increase the omega-3 fatty acid levels in the eggs.
- Grinding the seed will also produce oils which stick to your feeders.
- Overfeeding flaxseed can cause problems for your hens because sticky compounds can impact proper digestion of some nutrients.
- Use manufactured feed, in the correct proportions, to supply the vitamins needed by your hens.
- Adding 10% flaxseed to your hens’ diet will increase the omega-3 fatty acids in their eggs and not cause problems for your flock.
- Overfeeding flaxseed may have unintended consequences: dark, fishy tasting yolks, cause a drop in egg production, decrease egg size, reduce body weight gain and produce thin egg shells. It may also increase the omega-3 fatty acids in the egg yolk at the expense of omega-6 fatty acids which are also beneficial in your diet.
- The total level of omega-3 fatty acids in the eggs will depend on many factors including how efficiently the hens grind the flaxseed, rancidity in the diet, size of the eggs, health status of the hens and level of egg production.
- As a small flock keeper you can’t guarantee a particular level of omega-3 fatty acids in your eggs.
- Hens fed flaxseed will produce eggs containing mostly a -linolenic acid and much smaller amounts of the other omega-3 fatty acids.
- Flaxseed has no impact on cholesterol.
Credits: Harvard School Of Public Health; Manitoba Dept. of Agriculture; Science Daily; Web MD. Featured Photo: Terminator Chickens