Understanding Omega Fatty Acids

You may have heard the term, Omega Fatty Acids, and wondered what it meant exactly. You may have even heard of Omega-3 Fatty Acid, as it’s added to a lot of the foods we eat regularly. Well, if you’ve wondered at all what these things are and how they benefit the body, let’s take a look at them and what they can do for you.

They’re called ‘essential’ for a good reason, the human body needs them for many functions, like building healthy cells and maintaining brain and nerve function. Our bodies can’t produce them, the only source to get them into the body is food.

Now, these polyunsaturated fats are important for another reason. There’s growing evidence that they help in lowering the risk of heart disease, and as some other studies suggest, they may also help protect against type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and age-related brain decline.

Omega-6 is a fatty acid we predominantly get from linoleic acid, which comes from plan oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, as well as nuts and seeds. Just so you understand their importance in our diet, the AHA (American Heart Association) recommends that at least 5-10% of food calories come from omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3’s come primarily from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, and in smaller amounts from walnuts and flaxseed.

Scientists are still debating the best proportion of omega-6 and omega-3’s, but for now, there are several simple changes most of us could make to take advantage of their substantial health benefits.

1.Switch from Butter and Cream to Unsaturated Oils

Understanding Omega Fatty AcidsSaturated fats, which come mostly from animal sources, raise our LDL or bad cholesterol – the form that clogs your arteries. Unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts and fish can help lower those LDL levels.

Examples of simple ways to make the switch include:

  • Sautéing in canola or other vegetable oils instead of butter.
  • Drizzling olive oil (EVOO) or another flavorful oil over vegetables
  • Dipping bread in olive oil instead of spreading it with butter (add some dehydrated garlic and chili flakes to punch up the flavor)
  • Using non-hydrogenated margarine in place of butter
  • Making cream sauces with low-fat yogurt (this actually bumps up the flavor tremendously)
  • Favoring oil-based salad dressings over creamy dressings

2.Add Nuts to the Menu

blog_nutsEvery Christmas when I was younger, my Father used to buy large bags of mixed nuts to put out and snack on. My favorites were the Brazil Nuts (loved their shape), and Pecans. To this day I still enjoy raw Pecans and Pistachios.

Nuts are plenty loaded with omega-3s and omega-6s, which may explain why they’re highly favored to prevent against heart disease. Researchers have found, that a weekly serving of nuts lowered the risk of dying of heart disease by an impressive 8.3%. Who couldn’t use a boost like that?

Nuts are a satisfying snack (unless you’re allergic to them of course), and they’re a great addition to meals…you really should try:

  • Add cashews or almonds to stir-fries
  • Top a salad with walnuts
  • Use ground walnuts in your Pesto sauce
  • Bake chicken or trout with toasted almonds (yum!)

3.Go Fish!

omega3_fishIf you don’t know by now, fish is rich in 2 forms of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). There’s growing evidence that these 2 forms are particularly important for lowering inflammation and protecting against heart disease. It’s a growing practice now to check omega-3 levels in the blood as a useful predictor for heart disease risk.

With so many options to choose from, it’s recommended that people should eat at least 2 servings of fish a week (a serving being around 3.5 oz). If you’ve already got heart disease, I recommend bumping that up to 1g of EPA and DHA a day, preferably from fatty fish.

4.Other Sources of Omega-3s

Ok, let’s say you don’t eat fish, there are some of you reading this that don’t, the good news is, there are other forms of omega-3s out there. Flaxseed oil for example, contains about 55% omega-3 fats. Canola oil has about 10%, and soybean oil is about 7%. You can also eat walnuts and your leafy greens, both are good sources of omega-3s.

Here’s where it gets a little confusing. All of these choices are healthy choices, however, there’s some debate over whether they have the same benefits as fish oil. The reason being that non-fish sources of omega-3s are in the form of alpha linoleic acid (ALA). The issue with this is, although the body can convert some of the ALA to EPA and DHA, it’s not clear how much is converted. Bottom line…until they’ve worked it out, if you can eat fish, I recommend you do so. There are also fish oil omega-3 capsules you can take. You won’t taste anything fishy, but you’ll get the benefits of those omega-3s.

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One thing to note about omega fatty acids. When it comes to fatty acids, you’re most likely already getting enough omega-6s in your diet, however, our diets in general are lacking heavily in omega-3s. Their concern is that there’s evidence that too much omega-6s in our diet without the balance of omega-3s can lead to cardiovascular risk. Not good.

Think I’ve missed something or want to comment on what I’ve typed? Leave me a comment and let’s talk about it!

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