You’ve no doubt heard about omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. And you’ve probably heard that they have magical properties capable of everything from curing disease to turning you into a bonafide genius.
Well, they aren’t magic, they are not a cure-all and I wouldn’t go applying to MENSA just yet. But they do have some pretty great health benefits, if you get the right kind.
Here’s what you need to know…
What does that “essential” part mean? It means it’s necessary and our bodies do not naturally produce them. The only way we can get them is through food and/or supplements.
3, 6… and sometimes 9?
Omegas 3 and 6 are the fatty acids we need to get from food. They are essential.
Omega 9 fatty acids are not essential. We do need them, but our bodies can produce them when needed, so we don’t need them from food or supplements.
So 3 and 6 are the ones we need from food, but omega 3 is the one you really want to focus on.
Sorry! Sorry! I’ll make it quick and keep it simple :-)
Ideal ratios of omega 3 to omega 6 are 1:1, 1:2 or 1:3. In that range, it reduces inflammation in our bodies. Any higher on the omega 6 side and it increases inflammation.
Unfortunately, the average ratio in North America is 1:27! Way too high.
It’s high because it’s so easy to get omega 6. Many vegetable and plant oils are very high in omega 6 fatty acids, and the things cooked in those oils are usually really delicious (I’m looking at you, french fries).
What to do
Increase your omega 3 consumption.
But don’t just add in omega 3 sources. You need to (gradually) replace less nutritious foods in your diet with these sources.
There are two types of omega 3 fatty acids:
ALA: Mostly from plant sources like flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and hemp
EPA and DHA: Mostly from fish like salmon, canned sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies and caviar (fancy!)
EPA and DHA are the ones you want, but don’t worry if you don’t like or eat fish. ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in your body. It just isn’t a very efficient process, so if you can eat fish (or take a supplement from fish), that’s the way to go.
Why should you do this?
Good question! It’s all well and good to talk about inflammatory and anti inflammatory, eat lots of fish, get on the chia bandwagon, flax it up, yadda yadda yadda…
Here are some of the health benefits (not magic) of omega 3 fatty acids:
Lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke
Protects your brain by preventing and reducing your risk of Alzheimer's or dementia
Has a positive effect on autoimmune diseases (there are a lot of them)
Lowers your risk of breast, prostate and colon cancer
Reduces the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Lowers your blood pressure
Can help moderate Crohn's disease and IBS
Helps growing children develop healthy brain function and eyesight
Still… seems like a lot of work
Any change to our daily habits is hard. But with planning, you can make the transition a lot smoother.
Instead of diving into the omega 3 pond (Get it? Omega 3? Fish? Pond??), get into weekly meal planning. It saves time in the long run, saves money (yes please) and makes it easier to change your eating habits because in the end, laziness usually wins. I.e. If it’s already planned and shopped for, we’re more likely to eat it!
In your weekly meal plan, include:
Milk or eggs fortified with omega 3 DHA (don’t worry, your milk won’t taste fishy)
Walnuts as snacks
Meals cooked with canola, walnut or flaxseed oil (Flaxseed oil is a strong taste that can take getting used to, but it has double the amount of omega 3 as canola or walnut)
Ground flaxseed sprinkled on cereal, yogurt or anything, really
Chia pudding (yummy recipe coming soon!)
You can also take an omega 3 supplement. Look for one that comes from fish, not plants. Make sure each pill contains at least 700mg of EPA/DHA and that it is only omega 3 and not a 3 and 6, or 3-6-9 combo (that won’t help your ratios).
If you’re like me (and most people), making yourself eat something you know you don’t like isn’t going to work. So start with the things you do like and go from there.
My chia pudding recipe is coming soon and if nothing else… who doesn’t like pudding?