In my last post I talked about what omega 3’s actually are, and introduced several reasons that you should be considering including an omega 3 supplement in your diet.
As mentioned previously, the omega 3 fatty acids are considered to be essential fatty acids. This means that the body must have them. However, the body is not able to make them. They have to come from the diet, either in the food you eat or in a supplement, or both! There are THREE omega 3 fatty acids: ALA, DHA, and EPA.
ALA comes from plant foods. Examples would be flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil, walnuts, and others. ALA must be converted in the body to DHA and EPA for it to be used. Unfortunately, this conversion process is very inefficient. There is also research to suggest that the health benefits associated with omega 3’s is not associated with ALA. There is definitely a debate about fish and sea vegetable (like algae) sources of DHA and EPA VS. vegetarian sources of ALA that are converted to DHA and EPA.
DHA and EPA are found in cold water fish, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and halibut.The general recommendation is to eat fish of this type at least twice a week.
It hasn’t been determined that you can get too much omega 3 in the diet, but deficiency symptoms are known. Fatigue, dry skin and hair, poor memory, moodiness, depression, and others.
There are also other types of omega fatty acids, like omega 6’s and omega 9’s, that work in certain ratios with omega 3’s. Omega 6’s should be in a ratio of 1:4 with omega 3’s. The omega 6’s are PRO inflammatory, and omega 3’s are ANTI inflammatory. The body needs both. There are times when inflammation is needed in the body to protect itself or fight disease. Think: swelling and allergies. Both of these are desirable inflammatory responses, you just don’t want to always be in an inflamed state. The American diet is very high in its provision of omega 6’s, perhaps as much as 10-20 times more than omega 3’s. This is out of balance and could be why so many people don’t feel good most of the time.
So, where do omega 6’s come from? Most come from vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are in almost everything, as the American diet has moved away from animal based fats to the presumably more “healthy” vegetable fats over the past 50 years.To be fair, there are some health conditions that are helped by omega 6’s, and we do NEED them. We just don’t need anywhere near as much as we are getting. The readily available omega 6’s compared to the narrower availability of the omega 3’s, is what has so greatly distorted the ratio of the two.
If you are someone who doesn’t eat fish (for whatever reason), you absolutely should incorporate a fish oil supplement in your diet. If you DO eat fish, then supplementing on alternating days is more than likely enough for you.
Next post will talk about the different forms and pros and cons of each.
Mary Cabral, RD/LD