We have all received the message that Omega 3s are really important to one’s personal nutrition. We should eat more fish or include fish oil supplements to our diets. Fish oil may be recommended by a doctor in order to help lower cholesterol or reduce inflammation in the body. Why are Omega 3’s lacking in our diet and why do we seem to need so much of it?
What is Omega 3?
To answer these questions, we must first understand what an Omega 3 is. Omega 3s are a type of long chain of fatty acid molecules. These fatty acids serve as important functions to the body. They are used for tissues in the brain, eyes and cell membranes. These fatty acids compose some of the most important parts of the human body. This is why pregnant woman are encouraged to take Omega 3s (or DHA supplements- a type of Omega 3). Similarly, breast milk is naturally high in Omega 3s and infant formulas are now being fortified with DHA and EPA (another type of Omega 3, both found naturally in breast milk).
When Omega 3 fatty acids are broken down in the body, they make Cytokines. Cytokines promote anti-inflammatory cell signals. In contrast, when Omega 6 or Omega 9 fatty acids are broken down, they produce pro-inflammatory cell signals. There are two key things to understand about this process. Firstly, there is an imbalance of the ratio of Omega 3s,Omega 6s and 9s in our modern day food supply. Omega 6s and Omega 9s are found in refined vegetable oils, such as soybean, safflower and corn oil. These oils are used in many processed foods. In addition, because animals are commonly fed corn, their fatty tissues are higher in these pro-inflammatory fats. Animals who are grass-fed and/or eat their natural diet have higher levels of Omega 3s as well as a better ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s and 9s. Another important thing to remember is that many chronic diseases and ailments are caused by or exacerbated by inflammation. These include cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, allergies, arthritis and more.
How can Omega 3’s benefit us?
Based on this provided information, Omega 3’s can help prevent and/or alleviate many chronic health problems. One way to reap the nutritional benefits of Omega 3’s would be to eat a diet that is low in processed foods and higher in whole foods, including animal products from animals that are fed their natural diet (meat, eggs, dairy products).
These foods are also naturally high in Omega 3’s:
- Cold water fish, such as salmon, halibut, and sardines
- Chia seeds and flax seeds
- Dark leafy greens
- Canola oil
To learn more about an anti-inflammatory diet or how your family’s diet may be impacting their health, schedule an appointment to see one of our registered dietitians. They can help you modify your pantry and kitchen to help prevent or alleviate inflammatory diseases.