You hear and read about Omega 3s from articles, advertisements and packaged food labels trying to get you to buy their products.
When you try to understand the whys behind Omega 3’s health benefits, many times the articles are packed full of Doctorate level explanations that make your eyes glaze over.
This is the first of a three part explanation, in reasonably simple English, that may help you make sense of it all and why Omega 3s are so valuable in reducing inflammation and healing the body from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and more from which people with and without weight issues suffer.
This segment explains Omega-3 and Omega-6 and provides a list of good food sources.
To your health!
Balancing Your Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Essential for Health and Long Life
by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Many women are concerned about fat. If we think about everything that the media relates to us about the subject of fat, much of it is quite confusing and not entirely true. The patients I see are usually convinced that eating too much fat in their diet makes them fat. However, the truth is that an extremely low-fat diet will not regulate your weight and it will certainly not enhance your health. Truth be told, if you don’t get enough fat in your diet, you will actually be less healthy than if you were to consume healthy fats in your diet.
Luckily our society, in general, is becoming more educated and informed about the importance of fats in the diet, most importantly including omega-3 essential fatty acids into our daily diets. Next time you are at your local grocery store take notice how many times you see the phrase “good source of omega-3” on some food packages. This is not an accident because food manufacturers have discovered that marketing their items as such will help increase their sales. But it’s still confusing because so many do not understand the difference between these good fats and saturated fats which are present in many processed foods.
Research has confirmed that omega-3 fatty acids can have an excellent effect on impacting degenerative diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and many others. There are anti-inflammatory properties in omega-3 fatty acids and these have shown to have a positive effect for women especially those going through menopause, thus having impact on the preservation of the heart, breast, and bone health, and better yet, it balances their moods.
I know that it sounds too good to be true, but I have seen it in my practice through the years that omega-3 essential fatty acids indeed work wonders. That is why they are considered essential. From your heart to your mind and all the cells in your body, omega-3′s are the best kind of fats for your health.
What’s so essential about essential fatty acids?
Many women that come to the clinic have asked “What’s the difference between regular fat and “essential” fat?” The answer is, your body is not able to create essential fatty acids (EFAs), so you have to get them from what you eat. There are two forms of EFAs (omega-3 and omega-6), and they are found in the membranes of every cell in your body!
If we look at the molecular level, EFAs help protect and keep your cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal (GI), and immune systems functioning at their best. EFAs help to insulate your nerve cells and they produce molecular messengers that are part of your central nervous system and your bodies’ immunity.
Listed below are some ways to help you obtain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Please note that there are many foods that have both omega-3 and omega-6, and they are on both lists.
• Canola oil
• Hempseed oil
• Marine microalgae – most algae-based supplements contain docosahexaenoic acid [DHA], but not eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA]
• Pumpkin seeds
• Seafood – sources that are both high in omega-3 and low in environmental contaminants include anchovies, herring, mackerel, oysters, sardines, wild salmon and sardines
• Borage oil
• Canola oil
• Corn oil
• Evening primrose oil
• Safflower oil
• Soybean oil
• Sunflower oil
When reviewing the lists above, you may have noticed that olive oil was not on either of these lists. There is a good reason for this and that’s because olive oil has oleic acid (omega-9) and palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid. Olive oil does not have any omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. It is still very good for your healthy lifestyle because of its bioflavonoid content. Olive oil is a large part of the Mediterranean diet, which as we all know, is one of he healthiest diets to consume.
The magic balance between omega-3’s and omega-6’s
So we can differentiate and to be clear, omega-3 fatty acids are usually referred to as “good fats” while the omega-6 fatty acids are called “bad fats.” This is because we have too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 incorporated into our daily food intake. In general, omega-6 fatty acids favor inflammation, whereas the omega-3 fatty acids counter it. The inflammation then contributes to the diseases that the omega-3 fatty acids are known to help. However, there is an essential healthy balance, and both omega-3 and omega-6 are necessary for optimal functioning of your body. The right ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 actually decreases inflammation.
What is important for long term health and well-being is to balance the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Researchers indicate that the best ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is about 2:1 and 4:1. But a typical U.S. diet has a ratio between 10:1 and 30:1!
This imbalance which is tipped toward omega-6 over the omega-3 fatty acids is generally seen because the U.S. diet is loaded with animal fats (such as corn-fed beef) and corn products, and the diet is low in seafood, seeds, and nuts. In addition, the U.S. diets rely on processed, packaged food, fast foods, and fried foods (high in hydrogenated oils or trans fats). Trans fats are metabolized differently from other fats, and they interfere with the conversion of dietary fats. More and more research is showing the damaging effects of trans fats and I am sure more will come as time goes by.
“Bad” fats cannot be found in nature. These are the artificial trans fats that are created by adding extra hydrogen atoms to produce a soft, yet solid, room temperature product. This in turn helps to prolong the shelf-life of processed foods, such as cookies, crackers, breads, spreads, sauces, fried foods, and snack foods. Trans fats tend to raise the “bad” (LDL)) cholesterol and can greatly increase the risk of heart disease.
I can’t advocate enough to be a smart shopper and read the labels of everything you purchase. If you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” as part of the ingredients, put it back on the shelf and don’t buy it. These food items will never be part of a healthy diet. In addition, federal regulations allow the label to say “zero trans fats,” if the content is less than half a gram per serving. Be sure to read the serving size to determine if has been minimized to a small proportion. Recently the serving sizes were changed to accommodate this change in the labeling.
To be continued…
Please share what you are doing to include Omega-3s into your diet and any other thoughts or comments you may have about the article.