Omega-3’s seem to be a topic that everybody in the nutrition world can agree on, which is a rare thing. Experts from the low-fat camp, Mediterranean diet adherents, the paleo and primal folks, and followers of the vegan/vegetarian model all agree that omega’3’s are necessary for optimal functioning. What a relief, something we can all do without having to sort through controversy.
Why are omega-3’s so beneficial?
Well, fat in general is necessary for humans to survive and thrive – making up a significant portion of every one of the 100 trillion cell membranes in your body. Cell membranes are where much of the action of cellular functioning occurs, and ideally that membrane is fluid, supple and quickly responsive – especially in the brain which itself is made up of 60% fat, most of which is the omega 3 fat DHA. When our diet provides plentiful omega-3 fats, they will go into the building of these supple membranes, but when our diet is dominated by omega-6 fats, those membranes become stiff, slow and less responsive.
Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in our diet is crucial
Unfortunately, in our food supply we now derive most of dietary fat from seeds and grains (corn and soy) which are high in another essential fatty acid, omega-6. It is not that omega-6 fats are bad for us, they’re not. We just need to consume them in roughly equal proportion to omega-3’s. We need a 1:1 ratio, but the modern American diet has closer to a 20:1 ratio. We take in about 20x more omega-6 fats than we do omega-3 fats, and this causes problems such as inflammation, weight gain, increased cholesterol and contributes to brain disorders including depression, anxiety and ADD.
Omega 6 fats are more inflammatory than omega-3’s and this may lead to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. According to one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, taking approximately 2g omega 3’s (from fish oil) per day combined with exercise reduced body fat and improved cardiovascular and metabolic health more than either exercise or supplement alone. Studies have found that these beneficial fats also raise HDL, the good cholesterol.
So, try to eat fish 2-3 times per week and take a high quality fish oil supplement. If you prefer plant sourced omega-3’s, take ground flax or chia seed and invest in a high quality algae products available at some health food stores. Omega-3 eggs are another good plant source (technically the 3’s are from the flax the chickens are fed) but just remember that the conversion rate from plant sourced omega-3’s is not as high as those from fish oil.
Check out Dr. Mark Hyman’s article on fish oils if you want more info.
To your best health!
Cassandra Mick, CNE