In praise of omega 3 fats


Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish, fish oils, flax seeds, walnuts, and in smaller amounts in grass-fed eggs, dairy and meat, and they have a huge impact on our overall health

There are two “essential fats” that our body absolutely must get from the diet, as our body is unable to manufacture them – omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Our diet is swimming in omega 6. It is everywhere. Grains, nuts and seeds, meat and poultry (especially grain-fed), and vegetable oils like soy oil, canola oil, corn oil, grape seed oil, sunflower oil etc, so no problem getting those. Omega 3 fatty acids are another story however, unless you eat fish three to four times a week. And unfortunately due to the high mercury levels in fish these days, it is hard to recommend eating fish that frequently, unless the fish you choose to eat are very small, like sardines and anchovies. (If you want to check the levels of mercury in the fish you eat, use the mercury calculator.)

Did you know that in Italy, if a physician fails to suggest fish oil to heart patients as a first line of defence he can be sued for malpractice? Fish oil is the treatment of choice, and for good reason. It has NO negative side effects, and it thins the blood as well as aspirin, it decreases inflammation (homocysteine, C reactive protein), and improves the lipid profiles. Drug companies don’t want you to know that, because they can’t patent a food (unless the genetically modify it …). They would prefer you bought their drugs.

Omega 3 fatty acids also do wonders for the brain, and are vital for the cognitive and visual development of babies and children, and for preventing cognitive decline in adults. My sister calls the fish oil capsules her kids' happy pills. They take them, their mood improves. There is a lot of research that supports the notion that a lack of omega 3 fatty acids may lead to imbalances in brain chemistry, resulting in depression, anxiety disorders etc. Fish oils contain two omega 3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA, and it seems to be the EPA that is most helpful to those suffering from depression, so it may be worth looking for a brand that contains a mix with higher amounts of EPA. For young children, it is the DHA that is most important.

Flax Seed Oil needs to be converted in the body into DHA and EPA to be used, and many people lack the ability to make the conversion, which is why I tend to recommend fish oils right from the start.

Remember that omega 3 fatty acids, just like all polyunsaturated oils, are very very fragile. They are sensitive to heat and light, so they should be kept in a dark bottle and in the fridge. Often an antioxidant like vitamin E is included in fish oil capsules to prevent oxidation and rancidity. So watch expiry dates carefully, because consuming rancid fats will cause more bodily harm than good.

A healthy ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is about 1:4, and the current diet we consume tends to be in the neighbourhood of 1:20 omega 3 to omega 6, so we are way over-consuming omega 6 in relation to omega 3. This causes body inflammation, and we now know that inflammation plays a key role in many of the degenerative diseases we face today, like heart disease and arthritis. So increasing omega 3 consumption while decreasing omega 6 consumption can go a long way to correcting this problem. It is for this reason that I don’t recommend blended oils that contain both omega 3 and 6 – better off to simply stick with fish oil or flax oil, sources of omega 3. So, increasing fish or fish oil consumption (as much as 4000mg a day) while decreasing vegetable oil and processed grain consumption will go a long way to improving body chemistry, decreasing body inflammation and pain, and improving overall health.

I am heading to Florida for the next three weeks to take a course in Neuromuscular Therapy, and in my absence I would like to welcome Cord Reisdorf, owner of Peak Fitness Management, who will be writing in my place.

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Related tips
Vegetable oils – friend or foe?
Essential fats: omega 3 to omega 6 ratio
Fats: the good, the bad and the ugly
Cardiovascular disease

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Copyright 2008 Vreni Gurd

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