Originally Published: July 21, 2014 5:50 p.m.
There is a growing awareness about the important role Omega-3 fats play in overall health. Because they improve the function of every cell in the body, consuming adequate amounts is said to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.
Omega-3's are essential fatty acids, which means they are not produced by the body and must be obtained through diet and supplements. Omega-3's are renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties, play a role in energy production and hormone regulation, promote healthy skin, bones and hair, improve memory, concentration and overall cognitive ability, provide allergy relief, and help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They have also been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of psychological disorders including depression, anxiety and ADHD.
Sufficient Omega-3 levels are also necessary for the body to produce Omega-9 fats (oleic acid), which play a key role in cholesterol reduction, healthy immune function, muscle strength and reducing insulin resistance.
Omega-6 fats promote inflammation, which is a necessary response to injury and trauma. However, excessive cellular inflammation can lead to a variety of acute and chronic illnesses. Ideally, the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 should range between 2:1 and 10:1. The average American diet produces a ratio of up to 50:1 or higher. This is due in part to the over-consumption of conventional meats, refined sugar and processed foods.
Meat source Omega-6 fats contain arachadonic acid which is necessary in small amounts, however, over-consumption of this acid can lead to excessive inflammation and constriction of the arteries which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Plant source Omega-6 contains linoleic acid which the body converts into arachadonic acid as needed, but plant sources don't contain arachadonic acid and are also high in nutrients and fiber. High levels can be found in sunflower, safflower, sesame and peanut oils. Coconut oil is especially rich in Omega-6 and also contains high levels of lauric acid, which has beneficial antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Other healthful Omega-6 foods include avocado and organic, grass-fed beef - which contains much less saturated fat and up to four times more Omega-3 than conventional beef.
Omega-3 fats keep the cell walls pliable, allowing them to respond more easily to changes in blood pressure. Improved cell function and nutrient absorption contributes to maintaining healthy weight, a reduction in food cravings and improved overall health.
Flaxseeds are the richest plant-based source of Omega-3 fatty acids, containing twice the amount found in fish oil. Organic, unrefined flax oil provides the highest quality product.
Flax oil should be kept refrigerated and never heated or used as a cooking oil. For those who cannot easily digest oils, flax meal is a great alternative. It is suitable for baking, such as muffins or as a topping for salads, yogurt, cereal or any food of your choosing.
Fish oil is the more widely used supplement. To ensure safety, choose a fish oil that is molecularly distilled. This process removes toxins, metals and PCB's to a level that is safe for human consumption. Better still, select a company that uses food grade ethanol in its distillation process as this provides the purest fish oil.
Other foods rich in Omega 3 include walnuts, cauliflower, broccoli, shrimp, tuna, and sardines. However, to ensure adequate intake, a daily supplement is a necessary part of a healthy living plan.
Salmon has become extremely popular for its content of healthy fats. However, the majority of salmon sold comes from fisheries and there are some important things to consider when making your selection:
Farm raised fish contain higher levels of pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fats and less usable Omega 3.
Antibiotics and pesticides are commonly used in fisheries due to the high rate of disease and parasites that occur in feedlots. The levels of carcinogenic chemicals is so much higher in farmed salmon as compared to wild, it may increase the risk of cancer.
A synthetic pigment (canthaxanthin) is used to give farmed salmon the pink color that would otherwise be obtained in the wild from a diet of krill. Consumed in large amounts, this synthetic can adversely affect eyesight.
Farmed salmon are released into the wild before they fully mature, so the phrase "wild caught" does not guarantee that it is not a farm raised fish. Look for Wild Caught Alaskan.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW: Omega-3 fats are only effective when the diet is low in saturated fats. Maintaining a proper ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats is critical to overall health. Eat a wide variety of fresh, whole foods (preferably organic) and reduce your intake of processed and refined foods. Choose grass fed beef which contains less saturated fat, greater amounts of Omega-3 fats and protein and reduce overall meat consumption.
Note: **Flax oil may be contraindicated if you are pregnant or have diabetes and may inhibit the efficacy of blood thinning medications. If you have any health condition, consult with a healthcare practitioner prior to use.