We received an interesting question about whether or not infants (under age one year) should be given flaxseeds on a regular basis as a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Based on our research, we don’t recommend using flaxseeds as the only source of ALA for infants.
Although flaxseeds contain only a relatively small amount of cyanide (1, 2), the amount of flaxseeds needed to supply an adequate amount of ALA for an infant (3, 4) would come with more cyanide than is considered safe for an infant (5).
Exclusively breastfed infants of well-nourished mothers will get the ALA they need from breast milk. ALA is added to infant formulas.
As infants begin eating solid foods, small amounts of flaxseed—about 1/4 tsp of ground seeds per day—can supply additional ALA while not exceeding the safe level of cyanide. Infants can also get ALA from small amounts of canola oil, flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, walnut oil, and chia seeds.
1. Abraham K, Buhrke T, Lampen A. Bioavailability of cyanide after consumption of a single meal of foods containing high levels of cyanogenic glycosides: a crossover study in humans. Arch Toxicol. 2016 Mar;90(3):559-74.
3. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2002.
5. EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain. Acute health risks related to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in raw apricot kernels and products derived from raw apricot kernels. EFSA Journal 2016;14(4):4424, 47 pp. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2016.4424