Omega Fatty Acids:
We often hear about the benefits of Omega-3’s through fish oil, flax/chia/hemp seeds, walnuts and more. But why? Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fats meaning our bodies cannot create them and we must consume them through food (or supplements). Our bodies use these fats to create other fats that have crucial functions in the body. However it is the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fatty Acids consumed that nutrition experts are most concerned about.
What is the proper ratio?
For quite some time, it was suggested we ate a ratio of 1:1 (Omega-6: Omega-3). However in today’s world where a sizeable proportion of calories are derived from processed foods rich in vegetable oils and animal-derived fats (namely grain-fed cattle) the ratio has shifted for most people to consuming 10-15:1! This all has created the need to move closer to the 1:1 by increasing Omega-3 consumption and reducing Omega-6 consumption to reduce arthritis inflammation, lower cardiac risk, and reduce brain inflammation (ie Alzheimer’s, mental illness).
In general, most organizations suggest around 500 mg/day of EPA/DHA, however The Institute of Medicine has gone a step further and encourages a daily intake of 1.6 g and 1.1 g per day for adult males and females, respectively.
What foods are rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
First, it’s important to know that there are three main types:
• ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
• EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
• DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
The first one – ALA – is found in many commonly consumed foods that also have Omega-6 Fatty Acids, hence there is less of a push for people to up their intake of ALA. Some foods with the highest ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 are fish and seafood, followed by beans (mung beans/black lentils), Peppermint and Spearmint herbs, green vegetables, tropical fruits, seeds, and mixed green salad.
The only true food source rich in DHA/EPA is fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon. If you are vegan, or do not consume fatty fish or fish oil, you may need to consider using an algal oil (or perilla oil) supplement. Current and limited research shows it could produce a similar effect to marine oils.
*It’s worth noting that current ocean pollution raises possible concerns regarding the safety of fish in general.
OMEGA FATTY ACID SIDE NOTES: You can still have too much of a good thing. While generally not problematic, excessive consumption of fish oil can increase your risk of bleeding and may suppress your immune response. If you take fish oil supplements, be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendation on dosage. Also double-check with your doctor, before taking a fish oil supplement, if you are on blood pressure medication as it has been shown to reduce blood pressure.