People often cringe at the word “fat”, when in fact these are important macronutrients our bodies need to survive. The problem in our day and age, is that we are often consuming too much of the wrong types of fat. While there are many different forms of fats (saturated, unsaturated (poly/omega 3, 6 & mono/omega 9) and hydrogenated/trans), for the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on polyunsaturated omega fatty acids. These are essential nutrients we need to deliberately take internally in food or supplement form because body cannot produce them on its own.
Types & Sources
There are two types of polyunsaturated fats.
First, Omega 3 fatty acids which are also known as Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). These are found in ingredients such a flax, whole grains & leafy greens. This further breaks down into the categories of EPA & DHA which are naturally found in Fish & Algae.
Next is Omega 6, also known as Linoleic Acid (LA) and found in Sunflower, Soy, Corn, Peanut etc. These further break down into the categories of Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA) found in borage, evening primrose, black currant, hemp seed oils or Arachidonic Acid(AA) found in animal products. Both EPA & GLA have been shown to have beneficial anti-inflammatory effects.
More On Omega 3’s
Plant vs. Fish Sources:Plant sources only provide ALA, which must then be further converted to EPA/DHA in the liver. This requires the enzyme D6D, which is easily blocked. It is estimated that the conversion rate is only 5-10% for EPA & 0-5% for DHA from ALA. Although plant sources of omega 3 are important and highly nutritious, it should be noted that fish oils directly provide the beneficial and essential EPA/DHA fatty acids.
Health Benefits of Fish Oils (Omega 3’s):
Fish oils have been shown to provide a remarkable range of health benefits. These include, improving memory/learning/focus/attention, lowering blood pressure/triglycerides & improving cholesterol, preventing clotting, preventing brain deterioration, protecting against macular degeneration, improving mood/anxiety/depression, lubricating joints/bowels & fighting inflammation, increasing insulin sensitivity, hydrating/protecting/nourishing hair, skin & nails, lowering risk of and improving allergies & asthma, improving immunity.
EPA vs. DHA:
EPA (support from the neck down) – Back bone of prostaglandins (hormone-like substances). Controls inflammation & supports heart, mood, skin & joints. Fish naturally have a higher EPA to DHA content.
DHA (support from the neck up) – crucial for proper brain, eye and nerve function and development. Choose high DHA formulas for growing children, pregnant women, or those with learning or attention difficulties.
More On Omega 6’s
Beware of Certain Sources: Many dietary forms of omega 6’s come in processed oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, etc. These oils are industrially manufactured using high heat and toxic solvents, and may come from genetically modified crops. If these oils are damaged by processing, they become dangerous hydrogenated trans fats.
Optimal Ratio: The ideal ratio for Omega 6 to Omega 3 dietary intake is 1:1. We are advised to aim for at least a 4:1 ratio. Studies suggest that in our average diet, we are getting a 20:1 or higher intake in favor of Omega 6! Why is this important? ALA & LA both require the same enzyme (D6D) to convert into anti-inflammatory EPA or GLA. When too much Omega 6 (in the form of LA) is consumed, it competes for this enzyme and inhibits the omega 3 pathway/conversions. An imbalance has been associated with unwanted, excess inflammation in the body.
GLA All The Way! The bright side is that certain sources of omega 6 (those that contain GLA) do not require the D6D enzyme as they do not need to be converted from LA. Therefore, its consumption does not affect the Omega 3 pathway and actually has anti-inflammatory properties. GLA oils have been shown to be beneficial for smooth & glowing skin, treating skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis), regulating hormones and stopping PMS cramps/pain.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Eat fats (in moderation of course)! Just remember to compose the diet of a healthy balance of high quality fat sources, excluding only harmful hydrogenated/trans fats from processed sources. Choose whole, natural foods including nuts, seeds, avocadoes, olives, coconut, naturally raised and fed (organic, grass finished, omega 3) animal products, wild caught fatty fish, etc. Also, try not to overconsume Omega 6 fats (in non-GLA form) in relation to your Omega 3 intake to prevent inflammation and negative health effects. If this is difficult to do with diet alone (which it often is, based on our food options), consider taking a supplement from a reputable company that contains high quality, molecularly distilled, independently tested omega 3 fish oil to ensure proper balance and good health! Ask a health care professional or product advisor which brand and dosage is right for you and your family members.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.