Sacha Inchi Oil – an Omega 3 Oil Which Contributes to the Maintenance of Normal Blood Cholesterol Levels
Sacha inchi (plukenetia volubilis) is a star-shaped fruit. It is also known as the Inca peanut or sacha peanut, yet despite its name, it’s not a nut and is actually a seed, which grows within the star-shaped fruit pod.
It is native to South America and has been grown in Peru by the indigenous people for centuries (roughly around 3,000 years). Today, it’s also being cultivated commercially in South East Asia (mainly Thailand) and has also made its way to North America, too.
Sacha Inchi grows well in the warm Peruvian climate and can reach up to 2m in height. Two years after it is planted, the vine produces up to a hundred fruits at a time, this will contain 400 to 500 seeds a few times a year. The oil is produced by cold pressing the seeds and the flesh from the fruit. The oil itself is mild with a nutty finish.
Essential Fatty Acids
Sacha Inchi oil is predominantly made up of polyunsaturated fatty acids (82%):
- Around 48% is omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an essential fatty acid we cannot synthesise ourselves and so must get from food sources
- Around 33% of the total fat content is omega 6 linoleic acid (LA), another essential fatty acid
- 9% is omega-9 fatty acid, which is non-essential
Sacha Inchi oil also contains 9.3% monounsaturated fatty acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids are the good fats that we need more of in our diet, especially in the western diet. It has been noted that most of us consume more omega 6 than we do omega 3, with a highly unbalanced ratio (think 6:1and in some cases 25:1 omega 6:omega 3 ratio), whereas really the ratio should ideally be 1:1.
This is because omega 6’s are commonly found in foods such as vegetable oils, sinflower oil, corn oil, sesame oil, mayonnaise, nuts and seeds, some fast food meals, and some cookies and cakes. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is low in sacha inchi, which makes it an ideal source of omega 3 (Chirinos et al., 2013). Alpha-linolenic acid is the omega 3 fatty acid which is found from plant sources and omega 3s are anti-inflammatory and it has been shown that alpha-linolenic acid consumption lead to a moderately lower risk of cardiovascular diseases (Pan et al., 2012).
We do need an omega 6 intake and it is important that this ratio is balanced. There is this perception that omega 6 is bad for us, but it is an essential fatty acid, meaning we need to get it through our diet. By using an oil which is balanced in these essential fatty acids it means that we are less likely to exceed the ideal ratio.
The following table is a comparison of sources of Essential Fatty Acids:
Looking at the table above, you can see that Lucy Bee Starseed Omega Oil contains almost as much omega 3 as flaxseed oil, and a lot more omega 3 than ground flaxseeds, chia, hempseeds, rapeseed oil and walnuts. This is even when taking into consideration the variation in serving size ie. increasing dried tablespoon serving of 7g to equal 14g serving).
Interestingly things like rapeseed oil and walnuts are promoted for being high in omega 3’s but are actually higher in omega 6.
All of these sources in the table are sources of Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which are then used to make the long chain omegas DHA and EPA (found within algae and fish).
The Vegan Society recommend that people consume rapeseed oils instead of oils that contain a lot of LA (click here for link). However, it would be even more beneficial to use an oil like Sacha Inchi which has a better ratio of omegas than rapeseed.
Sacha Inchi oil is a great addition to any diet, especially if you lead a plant-based or vegetarian diet, whereby it may be a bit more difficult to naturally get enough omega 3s, and now joins flax, chia, and micro algae as one of the best vegan options out there. You can read more about Essential Fatty Acids here.
Extracting the oil by cold pressing means the make-up of the fatty acids is not destroyed and it prevents them from becoming oxidised, or it can be used for light cooking, up to 190C for 15 minutes.
Cold pressing the seeds also ensures the oil still maintains all of its other benefits including its phytosterols, phenolic compounds, and antioxidants. It has been concluded by one study in 2013 that the seeds should be considered an important dietary source for health promoting phytochemicals (Chirinos et al., 2013). These help to protect against lipid oxidation in tissues and food, and also to promote human health, and are responsible for critical biological functions (Chirinos et al., 2013).
Studies into the Benefits of Sacha Inchi Oil
This is a new area with limited research. One study, which is to a high research standard, looked at the acceptability and side effects when individuals consumed sacha inchi oil. After 1 week of consumption, it was found that sacha inchi had a good acceptability, and that serum total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and arterial blood pressure were lowered, whilst there was an increase in HDL cholesterol levels (Gonzales and Gonzales, 2014).
Further research is needed but a pilot study found that the consumption of sacha inchi oil had beneficial effects on the lipid profile of those with dyslipidemia (abnormal levels of lipids in the blood), where it caused a decrease in total cholesterol, non-essential fatty acids and an increase in HDL (Garmendia et al., 2011). It has also been found that sacha inchi oil is safe and efficient in the inhibition of Staphylococcus aureus adherence (Gonzalez-Aspajo et al., 2015).
Fair Trade and the Ethics Behind Sacha Inchi
Peru is a Non-GM country, with a strong belief in organic crops – mainly because there is little spare cash for manufactured pesticides.
The most common cash-crops grown here are corn and coca, which is sold and made into cocaine. Due to the income that a farmer can receive for this, there is some resistance to farm sacha inchi so farmers need to be given incentives to do so.
Lack of education is also an issue here, with less than 20% of pupils finishing high school.
This is where Fair Trade becomes so important. Through the added support of Fair Trade premiums, sacha inchi is growing in popularity amongst native rural Peruvian villages. It can provide a livelihood for communities and help replace lost income from traditional sources which have disappeared through poor soil quality. This all contributes towards ensuring food security and money for business education and schooling, as well as helping to preserve the indigenous culture and way of life.
Whilst progress is slow and challenging, Fair Trade premiums make a big difference and are specifically used to:
- Incentivise farmers to replace illegal coca plants, used for cocaine, and grow sacha inchi instead
- Distribute books for basic education
- Create teaching programmes for planting, conservation and sustainability
In this area of the rainforest, it’s important to encourage sustainable farming practices and preservation of natural ecosystems, whilst making sure the farmers are given a fair wage, and are not exploited for their work. By growing this crop, it also prevents further expansion of cattle grazing, which in itself sounds harmless enough until you consider the vast amount of deforestation that’s needed for cattle to graze and the negative impact associated with deforestation on ecosystems.
How to Use Sacha Inchi oil in Your Daily Diet
There is no actual recommended intake for EFAs in the UK – most look at the amount of DHA and EPA you get (oily fish and algae) which isn’t helpful for those who do not consume fish or may not take algae supplements. The European Food Safety Authority guidelines daily intake recommend 2-3g of ALA (or 250mg EPA/DHA) and 10g LA.Source the vegetarian society click here.
Even 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of Starseed Omega 3 Oil would cover this.
It couldn’t be easier to incorporate this omega oil into your daily diet!
It’s great to:
- Take straight from the spoon, instead of fish oil capsules
- Drizzle over pasta, soups, eggs and vegetables
- Blend into smoothies
- Use in homemade mayonnaise
- Replace olive oil in hummus recipes
- Use in salad dressings
Chirinos, R. Zuloeta, G. Pedreschi, R. Mignolet, E. Larondelle, Y. and Campos, D. (2013). Sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis): a seed source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols, phytosterols, phenolic compounds and antioxidant capacity. Food Chemistry, 141(4), pp. 1723-1739. Available here.
Garmendia, F. Pando, R. and Ronceros, G. (2011). [Effect of sacha inchi oil (plukenetia volúbilis l) on the lipid profile of patients with hyperlipoproteinemia]. Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Pública, 28(4), pp. 628-632. Available here.
Gonzales, GF. And Gonzales, C. (2014). A randomized, double blind placebo-controlled study on acceptability, safety and efficacy of oral administration of sacha inchi oil (Plukenetia Volubilis L.) in adult human studies. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 65, pp. 168-176. Available here.
Gonzalez-Aspajo, G. Belkhelfa, H. Haddioui-Hbabi, L. Bourdy, G. and Deharo, E. (2015). Sacha inchi oil (Plukenetia volubilis L.), effect on adherence of staphylococcus aureus to human skin explant and keratinocytes in vitro. The Journal of Enthnopharmacology, 2(171), pp. 330-334. Available here.
Pan, A. Chen, M. Chowdhury, R. Wu, JH. Sun, Q. Campos, H, Mozaffarian, D. and HU, FB. (2012). a-linolenic acid and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(6), pp. 1262-1273. Available here.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
Members of the Lucy Bee team are not medically trained and can only offer their best advice. Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Please note you should always refer your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.