For the last several decades, fat has gotten a bad rap in our society. While the fat-free fad has seemed to slow for now, “low-fat” is still considered a positive attribute.
Even within natural health discussions where healthy fats are valued, omega-3 fatty acids are favored while omega-6 gets a cold shoulder. In reality,
In reality, both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important components of a healthy diet. Where we go wrong is in the kinds of fats we choose and the ratio in which we consume them. Making the best sources of omegas a priority in the diet can improve health throughout the whole body.
What are Omegas?
Fatty acids are identified by the way the molecular chain is formed and bonded. Unsaturated fats have some empty spaces in their chains, called double bonds, while saturated fats are completely filled (saturated) with hydrogen atoms and have no empty spaces left. Saturated fats tend to be more stable, making them preferable when cooking at high heat.
You can identify a type of fat by its structure at room temperature: saturated fat will be solid, and unsaturated will remain liquid. Omegas are unsaturated fats, and the number indicates how many double bonds the fatty acid contains. Trans fats are usually artificially created in order to make a heat stable, shelf stable product.
Unsaturated fats are usually found in plants and fish, so a diet rich in varied vegetables and favoring fish as a protein will naturally contain plenty of omegas. However, omega-6 is also found in red meats and vegetable oils. The Standard American Diet – loaded with meat, processed foods with vegetable oils, and margarine – provides omega-6 in spades, but may fall short of omega-3.
The Importance of Balanced Omegas
Omega fatty acids work in conjunction to provide numerous benefits to the body. They are components in brain health, affecting mood and cognition and protecting against stress (1). They can protect against allergies and asthma. (2) They are anti-inflammatory, helping the immune system to effectively target intruders with inflammation rather than healthy tissues. (3)
Anti-inflammatory effects make omegas beneficial for the numerous inflammatory illnesses that plague our society, such as inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and eczema.
While omega-3s are almost limitlessly beneficial, too much omega-6 in the diet can actually have opposite effects, causing inflammation rather than preventing it. Experts typically recommend that omegas should be consumed in a 1:1 ratio, but our excessive meat and vegetable oils and limited whole vegetables, nuts, and seeds lead to heavy levels of omega-6 and deficient omega-3. Western ratios fall closer to 20:1 omega-6 to omega-3. (4)
Without a good ratio of omegas, we continue the spiral of inflammation and disease. For this reason, we don’t want to focus on increasing all sources. Instead, we should choose the best sources of omegas. Our dietary omega-6 intake should be chosen carefully and wisely. If omega-3s are supplemented, they should be sourced carefully in order to ensure absorption. Balancing omegas with
If omega-3s are supplemented, they should be sourced carefully in order to ensure absorption. Balancing omegas with high-quality sources can relieve ailments and promote overall wellness – you just have to know where to look!
The Best Ways to Increase Omega-3
It’s no secret that Western diets are low in fresh, real foods. We are cutting our bodies short of countless nutrients by choosing the packaged and delivered versions of food rather than what can be found in nature. Add some of these excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids to begin to regain health and balance in the body (5):
- Nuts, seeds, and their oils
- Olive oil
- Well-sourced meats
- Fish and fish oil
- Beef, especially grass-fed
- Various vegetables
- Spinach and lettuce
Following what is referred to as the Mediterranean diet ensures higher levels of omega-3 and a more balanced consumption of omega-6. This diet typically includes very little, if any, red meat, with fish or vegetarian meals in its stead. Fresh produce, nuts and seeds and olive oil are staples at nearly every meal, and processed foods are rarely, if ever, consumed.
Choosing Good Sources of Omega-6
Omega-6 fatty acids are most frequently consumed in red meats and processed foods that utilize margarine and vegetable oils. However, there are much better sources of omega-6. Here are some of the best sources of omega-6 that you can include in your diet:
- Healthy vegetable oils
- Nuts and seeds
For omega-6 levels, it can be just as important to reduce the number of unhealthy sources as it is to increase the good. It’s about making the shift more than making an increase. If you’re already consuming the best sources, you might consider reducing or eliminating unhealthy foods that have high levels of omega-6:
- Vegetable oils
- Corn oil
- Processed foods
- Pastries and baked goods
- Chicken, especially fried
- Beef, especially conventionally raised
You can watch the ingredients for oils, shortening and margarine to make sure healthy options are used. Better yet, replace packaged, processed foods with homemade options using better sources of omegas. (6)
Importance of Supplement Choice
As important as the type of foods we choose for our source of omegas is the quality of the food itself. Fish may be an excellent source of omega-3s, but it can also be contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. Nuts and seeds and produce are also good choices, but many factors can lead to less consumption – such as budget or availability.
And even when you can make changes to the diet to improve the ratios consumed, you may still have an imbalance to overcome or a condition that warrants a stronger approach.
Supplementing omegas can help to re-establish balance and wellness, but the wrong supplements may just waste time and money. Purdue University analyzed a range of omega-3 supplements for quality, and they found that over 70 percent lacked the labeled levels of EPA and DHA, the forms of omega-3 that the body needs. (7)
Assuming the manufacturer is forthcoming with its ingredients, mishandling the oils can lead to oxidation, which renders the supplement ineffective. (8) Always research supplement manufacturers to find trusted sources.
Choose only the best sources of omegas – in both food and supplement form – and fight back against our culture of inflammation and disease.
Try this amazing (and healthy) Walnut-Encrusted Salmon recipe!
Do YOU Get Enough Omega 3s?
Scientists have established the effectiveness of Omega 3 in a number of health areas, including your Heart, Brain, Joints, Skin, Immune system, Vision, and Digestion.
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