Oh Mega Benefits! Are you getting enough Omega-3’s in your diet?
So what the heck is all this hype about Omega-3’s and what exactly are they?
Omega fatty acids are known as essential fatty acids because they can’t be made by the body. That’s right, that means you have to get it from the food you eat!
Essential fatty acids (EFA) are integral components of your cell membranes and are also key players in the formation, structure and functions of your neurotransmitters. There are two main types of EFA’s, omega-6 and omega-3’s, and we need both…but in the right ratio.
Omega-6 fatty acids are commonly found in vegetable oils (like sunflower, soy and safflower), animal products and some nuts and seeds like sunflower and sesame seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly found in wild fish, animal products from sustainable sources, and some nuts and seeds like walnuts, flax and chia.
Now here comes the tricky part, finding the right balance of omega-3 to omega-6 in your body.
They say that the optimal ratio should be anywhere from 1:1 to 4:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 in the body; however the typical diet is unbalanced by extremely high levels of omega-6. That’s because omega-6 is found in high concentrations in our packaged, processed and fast foods… even the “healthy” ones. The primary concern is the consumption of all of the vegetable oils like corn oil, soy oil, sunflower seed oil, canola oil and safflower oil. It is always best to consume your omega-6 fats from whole food sources because all EFA’s are extremely sensitive to light, oxygen and heat. That’s why I recommend storing them in a cool, dark place and in a sealed container. I try and store most of my nuts and seeds in the fridge and freezer.
It’s all about the Omega 3’s
Omega-3s are very important for your health and they are known for their ability to lower inflammation in the body.
They help keep your brain healthy by supporting your mood, mental health, and concentration.
They can even help strengthen your microbiome. The human brain is approximately 60% fat, so it makes sense that you need to feed your brain healthy fats including the healthy essential fatty acids to support it!
There are two important components of omega-3’s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are highly concentrated in the brain and they support your brain by providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support. This in turn helps protect your neurons. EPA specifically helps reduce cellular inflammation and improves your mood, while DHA supports the nervous system in regards to the structure and functions of your brain. (1)
A note on DHA and pregnancy
DHA is an integral aspect during pregnancy and early childhood. It aids the fetus’s neurological development and is an important component of mother’s milk to help support brain development when your child is growing. During fetal growth and the first few years of childhood, DHA is an important structural component of the brain and the retina. During the last trimester of pregnancy the fetus’s brain grows so rapidly that it is crucial that the mother is intaking adequate DHA. Low levels of DHA may be one of the factors related to postpartum depression. (2)
So what does this all mean?
Well, in simple terms too much omega-6 in the diet can lead to inflammation in the body. Omega-6 and omega-3 can compete for the enzyme pathways which will influence which prostaglandins get formed – inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. (1)
How can I get more Omega 3’s in my diet?
Here are some of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Wild fish that are rich in omega-3’s include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies. I recommend eating these fish 2 times per week.
- Grass-fed and sustainably raised animal products like grass-fed beef and free-range eggs. Animals that eat organic and as close to their natural diet allows them to be richer in omega-3’s versus animals eating a nutrient depleted or high omega-6 diet. Remember you are what you eat!
- Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin and sesame seeds. A lot of nuts and seeds will have both omega-3 and omega-6 so you may see them on both lists and that’s ok. Omega-6 from whole food sources are the best ones to incorporate into your diet versus consuming them as oils in packaged foods and snacks.
Am I deficient?
Omega-3 deficiency can greatly affect your cognitive function and plays a role in your mood, memory and concentration. Symptoms of high levels of inflammation in the body (this can be anymore like brain, gut, skin and joints) can be a sign that you need to consume more omega-3’s. Physical signs like dry skin, hair and brittle nails could also be related to a deficiency.
Omega-3 deficiencies also affect children. There is a rise in children with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD/ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders. A common recurring theme is that they are often omega-3 deficient.
Try to include more omega-3 foods into your day and reduce your consumption of omega-6 foods from non-whole food sources. In reality, it can be hard to get enough omega-3’s in our modern day diet, especially if you are a poor converter of plant sources of omega-3’s. That is why a high quality fish oil supplement could be a good option for certain individuals who may be deficient. If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan there are some good quality vegan omega-3 oils available as well. It is always best to consult with a health care practitioner, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are on any medication.
- Derbyshire, E. “Do Omega-3/6 Fatty Acids Have a Therapeutic Role in Children and Young People with ADHD?” Journal of Lipids, Hindawi, 30 Aug. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5603098/.
- Wierzejska, Regina, et al. “Dietary Intake of DHA during Pregnancy: a Significant Gap between the Actual Intake and Current Nutritional Recommendations.” Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30525329.