nav-left cat-right
cat-right

If you could only change one thing – omega-3’s

 

flaxseed1-430x450

People often ask me if there was just one thing they could change about their diet, what should it be?

The one change we should make as individuals and as a nation that would probably be the most beneficial overall, is to increase our intake of omega 3 fatty acids and decrease our intake of omega 6 fatty acids.

WHY INCREASE OMEGA 3’S?

Omega-3’s and omega-6’s are fatty acids that control inflammation in the body. Omega-3’s are basically anti-inflammatories, suppressing the flammatory response. Omega-6’s excite the flammatory response. So, between the two, they regulate inflammation in the body. The body needs some inflammation to protect itself and heal from various kinds of damage. Inflammation also triggers the immune system to fight diseases. But, chronic inflammation may be at the root of all major illnesses. It’s important to have both kinds in our diet but it’s important to have them in the proper balance. Ideally, we would consume them in equal amounts. In other words, in a ratio of 1:1 or no higher than 4:1. The problem with the modern Western diet is that we have created a huge imbalance of these two important fatty acids where we now consume around 20-25 times as much omega-6’s as omega-3’s, or in a ratio of 20-25:1! This is because omega-6’s are found in seed oils like soybean oil, safflower oil, and corn oil that is used in fast foods and in processed foods like cookies, chips, crackers, and other snack foods. These high proportions of omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation. The imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may also contribute to obesity, depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity and even a tendency toward violence.

WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?

Omega-3’s are found in flax seed oil, fatty fish like salmon, cod, and sardines, and walnuts. Walnuts are also a good source of omega-6 fatty acids. Other “good” sources of omega-6’s are other kinds of nuts like almonds and peanuts, and seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. While some of the “good” foods, like almonds and avocados, have a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, they also have many redeeming qualities. These whole, natural foods are also good sources of many other important nutrients and fiber.

So, the omega-3’s and omega-6’s are both good for us, as long as we eat them in close to equal proportions. Luckily, as with so many foods that contain important nutrients, omega-3’s and omega-6’s co-occur in many foods. And, like so many other things, if we obtain them by eating them in their natural state, the balance will pretty much take care of itself. It would be difficult to consume 20-25 times more omega-6 than omega-3 if we were just eating whole, natural food. The only reason this has become a problem is because our Western diet is grossly overloaded with omega-6 fatty acids in processed food. It is one very good reason to avoid processed food. Processed food, in general, has way too little of the good things we need, and a whole lot of the bad things that we not only don’t need, but that are making us very sick, both physically and mentally.

OMEGA 3’S ARE IN BOTH PLANT-BASED AND ANIMAL FATS

There are 3 kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are the kinds that are most beneficial in treating depression and anxiety.

ALA is found in plants and of the 3 kinds is the one we generally get the most of from our food. Some ALA will convert to EPA and DHA in most people. How much is converted depends on several factors. Saturated and trans-fats, some prescription medications, deficiencies in some vitamins and minerals, excessive alcohol consumption and some health conditions like diabetes can interfere with conversion. Also people with certain ethnic heritages including Native American, Inuit, Norwegian, and Welsh-Irish may not effectively convert ALA to EPA or DHA in the body. Meeting your needs for other nutrients by eating a variety of healthy, whole food is crucial for proper conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA. If you share one of the aforementioned ethnic heritages, how much ALA you are able to convert is difficult to say. You will be able to convert some, but may need to consume much more ALA, perhaps as much as 5 times more, in order to convert enough to EPA and DHA. ALA is found in many types of nuts and seeds as well as plants. The best source of readily available ALA is in flax seed and flax seed oil.

Smaller amounts can be found in:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Mustard greens
  • Algae
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Watercress
  • Parsley

EPA and DHA seem to have the most health benefits overall and specifically in regards to mental health. EPA and DHA are especially low in the Western diet. EPA and DHA are found in:

  • Fatty fish such as salmon (wild caught will have higher levels of omega-3s than farmed because of what they eat), sardines, herring, mackerel, trout (Lake Trout is highest), and tuna.
  • Cod liver oil
  • Grass fed meat (meat that comes from feedlots is typically high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 because of what they are fed)
  • Wild game

IT’S EASY TO INCREASE OMEGA 3’S IN YOUR DIET

The surest way to meet your needs for EPA and DHA is to eat fatty fish several times a week. Some people will be able to convert a substantial amount of ALA from plant sources to EPA and DHA. Those who cannot convert it as efficiently should consume more from sources that are high in ALA, like flaxseed oil, which has about 5 times more omega-3 in the form of ALA than omega-6, or a ratio of about 1:5. Being conscientious about eating vegetables that have a higher ratio of ALA to omega-6 like dark green leafy vegetables will also help ensure a good balance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response to “If you could only change one thing – omega-3’s”

  1. Well I really enjoyed studying it. This article offered by you is
    very helpful for proper planning.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Top 10 Mental Health Foods - Mental Health Food - […] you some omega 3’s “in the bank” so to speak where the goal is a 1:1 ratio of omega 3…
  2. Inflammation - The Link Between Depression and Pain - Mental Health Food - […] of omega 3’s and omega 6’s. Unfortunately, our diets are typically much lower in omega 3’s and much higher in…
  3. Pumpkin Power! - Mental Health Food - […] Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatories. They are extremely important for many aspects of health, including mental health. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *