Fats from the Gods – Omega 3 Benefits and the World of Dietary Fat

Omega 3 benefits are far reaching. Consuming foods that contain these essential fatty acids are a key part of the health matrix – especially for the developing brain, the cardiovascular system and immune function.

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Below are several recognized advantages of Omega 3s.

  • lowering triglycerides
  • lowering blood pressure
  • reducing inflammation including in blood vessels and joints
  • facilitating wound healing
  • thinning blood
  • lifting depression and mood
  • supporting brain and neurological function and development
  • supporting immune function
  • fighting fatigue

Omega 3 Benefits you can Experience through Food and Supplements – The skinny on dietary fat - Fish oil, flax oil and other anti-inflammatory oils and how to store and use them.

What follows are specific conditions where Omega 3s may help prevent or improve symptoms:

  • Cardiovascular Disease including high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
  • Fetal Development – Children’s whose mothers took Omega 3s during pregnancy show improved brain, neurological and optical function.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis – Omega 3 intake correlates with diminished joint pain and inflammatory markers.
  • Asthma and Allergy – Asthma sufferers taking Omega 3 supplements have shown improved lung function. Mice, whose mothers supplemented Omega 3s during pregnancy, showed lower risk of asthma and allergy.
  • Pregnancy – Omega 3 levels in umbilical cord blood are linked to improved emotional and mental function in children ten years later.
  • Depression - Omega 3 intake correlates to improved mood and function of certain anti-depressants.
  • Dyslexia – Improved writing has been noted in children.
  • Autism - Certain autistic behaviors have shown improvement with Omega 3 supplements.
  • Aggression
  • ADHD - Children who supplement Omega 3’s show improved symptoms.
  • PMS, Dysmenorrhea and Menopause Symptoms – Fish oil is linked to improved pain and other symptoms.
  • Endometriosis –Analysis of Nurse’s Health Study showed improved symptoms in endometriosis sufferers.
  • Slow Metabolism - Ingestion of Omega 3 Oils is linked to improved energy and effeciant metabolism.
  • Dry skin and mucous membrane
  • Macular Degeneration
  • Type II Diabetes – Omega 3 rich flax seeds improved blood sugar and blood lipid levels.

A Scarcity of Omega 3s in the Western Diet - A scarcity of Omega 3 Benefits

With many Omega 3 benefits acknowledged by the scientific community, the unfortunate news is that most people in the United States are deficient in these health protective fats.

Experts speculate that the deficiency of Omega 3s in the typical western diet may contribute to the pervasiveness of the above health problems.

Summary of Fats – Omega 6 and Omega 3 Benefits along with the skinny on Monounsaturated, Saturated and Trans Fats

Before discussing Omega 3 benefits, an overview of dietary fats is useful.

There are several types of fats or fatty acids in the food we eat. Many foods contain a mix of fatty acids; so it is not an issue of one food – one type of fat … and instead an issue of some foods being better sources of certain fats than others.

Major Fatty Acids .

    While not a complete list, the following identifies some of the major fatty acids and their food sources.
  • Omega 3s are polyunsaturated fats found in high concentration in flax, hemp, chia and pumpkin seeds as well as the oil of cold water fish, and dark green leafy vegetables;
  • Omega 6s are polyunsaturated fats found in, among other sources, pumpkin, sunflower, safflower, sesame, soybean and canola oil;
  • Monounsaturated fats (including Omega 7 and Omega 9) are found in, among other foods, olive oil;
  • Saturated fats are found in large proportion in animal products including meat and dairy, unless removed as with skim products. Saturated fat is found in high proportion in palm and coconut oil;
  • Trans fats occur widely in processed foods including baked goods and margarines. Trans fats are mostly in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a solid fat produced by heating polyunsaturated vegetable oil. Small concentrations of trans fats occur naturally in dairy and meat.

Major Omega 6 and Omega 3 Benefits – They are Essential

Of the many fatty acids, the only essential two are Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. They are needed for survival. Your body cannot generate them; your diet must supply them in sufficient quantity for you to maintain health.

Down sides to Too Many Trans Fats, Saturated Fats and Omega 6 Fats underscore Omega 3 Benefits

Many experts believe that we eat too many Omega 6 fats. Excess Omega 6 fats have been linked to inflammation, especially when combined with excess dairy and meat consumption.

Omega 3 benefits are especially important today because our diets are so deficient in them.

Benefits of Fats – How much do we need overall?

We need fat for proper health including neurological and brain function, production of hormones etc.

Click here for more information on essential fatty acids including the Omega 6 and Omega 3 Benefits in a Healthy Balanced Diet at Healthy-Diet-Healthy-You.com

However, those consuming the typical Western diet, consume too much fat, as well as too much of the wrong kinds of fat.

While a maximum of 30% of calories has been the government’s position on ideal overall fat consumption for several decades, a growing number of nutrition experts consider that fats, as a percentage of total calories, should average no more than 20%. While still controversial, this is based on epidemiological studies of populations with a low (20% or less) intake of overall fat, as in some Asian cultures. These groups suffer, on average, far fewer of the myriad health conditions than populations consuming a typical high-fat Western diet.

Setting aside the 30% fat figure or even the alternate 20% figure, the average Westerner gets more than 35% of total calories from all types of fats combined. These high levels have been associated with an increased incidence of typical Western lifestyle diseases like obesity, breast and colon cancers, heart and cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and Type II diabetes.

The Omega 3 Benefits – Avoiding Deficiency

Despite the average western diet being fat-excessive, we are generally deficient in Omega 3 fats.

There are three reasons for the deficiency of Omega 3’s in the typical Western Diet.

  1. Omega 3s are destroyed easily by light, oxygen and heat and, therefore, don’t survive most food processing and cooking methods;
  2. One of Omega 3’s major sources, cold water fish, is not eaten as often as it should;
  3. Previously, dairy and most meat products were grass fed and contained Omega 3s. Today, most meat and dairy is grain fed and contains little or no Omega 3s.

Another reason for the high incidence of Omega 3 deficiency conditions may be that the Omega 3s we do consume do not function as well as they might, because of our consumption of trans fats. Research suggests that trans fats disrupt the beneficial hormone-like function that Omega 3 fats play in the body as well as compromise the cellular membrane. These are yet two additional reasons to avoid artificial trans fats.

Understanding a little chemistry to appreciate both the Omega 3 Benefits and Why these fats are so fragile

It is worth learning some of the lingo, regarding Omega 3 fats as well as their Omega 6 cousins. It can help when buying supplements or making sense of nutrition information including Omega 3 benefits.

Both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s). As mentioned, they are obtained only from diet. For this reason, they are called essential fatty acids (EFA’s).

Omega 3s are also known as alpha- linolenic acid ( ALA), which is a precursor to EPA ( eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA ( docosahexaenoic acid). Being polyunsaturated, they are made of a complex if unstable combination of molecules. For this reason these fats are highly unsaturated and, therefore, easily destroyed by common cooking and food manufacturing processes.

Cook Safely with Fats and Oils to preserve Omega 3 Oils and Omega 3 Benefits
Rancid (oxidized) fats are not healthy and promote free-radicals so don’t heat oils that have a low oxidation point. This includes oils with substantial Omega 3s like flax, walnut, pumpkin and hemp, none of which are good for cooking. Instead, use these oils unheated drizzled on salads or foods at the table, or grind the raw seeds and sprinkle food. For cooking, use oils with a higher oxidization point including omega 6 rich canola or monounsaturated rich olive oil, or, in moderation, butter or coconut oil, both rich in saturated fats. The advantage of these fats is that they withstand heat better than Omega 3 containing oils.

By contrast, Omega 6 fats [ linoleic acids (LA) and its derivatives gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)], while still polyunsaturated, are more resilient to oxygen, light and heat than Omega 3 fats and, therefore, survive better the food manufacturing and cooking processes.

It is no surprise that we routinely get more than enough Omega 6s in the typical Western diet!

Storing Fats, Oils and Nuts to Maximize Omega 3 Benefits
Store your fats including oils and nuts, properly. To prolong freshness and avoid oxidation; keep in sealed, airtight, light protective containers (dark not clear glass) in a cool place. To avoid free-radical damage, discard rancid nuts and oils, which often have a distinctive smell. Buy your oils and nuts fresh in small amounts from high quality sources and refrigerate in air-tight light-protected containers for extended storage.

Omega 3 and Omega 6 Benefits – Healthy Cell Membranes

Fatty acids are incorporated into cell membranes throughout the body including those in the brain, the lungs and elsewhere. The membrane forms the outer surface of a cell.

Oxygen, glucose (blood sugar) and other nutrients pass through the membrane to the inside of the cell; waste products flow out. This process working effectively is essential for good health.

Omega 3 fatty acids in particular make the cell membrane more fluid so that nutrients pass more efficiently into the cell; waste products exit more readily; and toxins are prevented more completely from entering the cell than, if the membrane lacks sufficient Omega 3s. As well, the fatty acid quality of the membrane contributes to cellular communication – an important function in an organism as complex as the human body, where so many biological systems are interconnected.The bottom line is that your Omega 3 intake has an effect on how your body absorbs and uses the oxygen, food energy and other nutrients you ingest and has a direct effect on how you feel and function.No wonder the Omega 3 health benefits are vast!

Understanding the Omega 6 and Omega 3 Benefits– Meet Prostaglandins

Omega 6’s, similar to their Omega 3 cousins, are converted into active hormone-like substances called prostaglandins.

In the case of Omega 6’s some of these prostaglandins, called Series 1 Prostaglandins, supress inflammation, thin blood, relax blood vessels and improve immune function and metabolism.

However, a part of Omega 6 GLA can also be converted into arachidonic acid, which is also found in milk and meat. The problem is that excess arachidonic acid is transformed into Series 2 Prostaglandins, which can have inflammatory effects on the body. It follows that you don’t want to consume too much arachidonic acid either through milk and meat or Omega 6 rich seeds and their oils. This is one reason that experts are concerned that we currently consume too much Omega 6 fats, in relation to our intake of Omega 3s.

By contrast, Omega 3’s are converted into Type 3 prostaglandins. These highly beneficial prostaglandins are essential for brain and nerve function - a major Omega 3 benefit.

Tapping the benefits of Omega 3 and Omega 6’s – It’s the Ratio that Counts

Some experts argue it is less the relative amounts of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats a person consumes, rather than the ratio of the two. As mentioned, the current Western diet is deficient in Omega 3s but overrepresented by other fats including Omega 6.

Udo Erasmus, author of Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill suggests a 4:1 ratio between Omega 6 and Omega 3s to achieve both Omega 6 and Omega 3 benefits. This is based on his view that Omega 3’s are absorbed by the body more efficiently than Omega 6s. He notes that the Omega 6 Omega 3 ratio in brain tissue is 1:1; in fat tissue – 5:1; and in other tissue 4:1.

He recommends the following grams amounts per day .

  • Omega 6 – 3 g/day for basic nutrition; 9 g/day for optimal nutrition.
  • Omega 3 - 2 g/day for basic nutrition; 6 g/day for optimal nutrition.

When confronting specific health conditions, therapeutic doses may be substantially higher than the above.

Omega 3 Eggs – a convenient way to obtain Omega 3 benefits
One way to boost your Omega 3 intake and, therefore, the benefits of Omega 3 consumption, is to eat eggs from chickens feed an Omega 3-rich diet. This is generally a feed high in flaxseed, chia or other Omega 3 rich seeds. In another example of “we are what we eat”, the eggs from these chickens have a much higher Omega 3 content than those fed the traditional chicken feed, generally an Omega 6-rich product. Omega 3 rich eggs are widely distributed in supermarkets and are identified as such on the package.

Omega 3’s are found in large proportion in

  1. flaxseeds
  2. chia seeds
  3. pumpkin seeds
  4. walnut seeds
  5. hemp seeds
  6. cold water fish including mackerel, herring, salmon and tuna, sardines and swordfish
  7. green leafy vegetables
  8. meat, dairy and eggs, where the animal has been fed an Omega- 3 rich diet.

A Note on Plant Sources and Fish Sources of Omega 3s

To be used by the body and converted into the beneficial series 3 prostaglandins, the Omega 3s found in seeds must be converted first from ALA into EPA and DHA.

The Omega 3s in cold water fish and their oils are already in the form of EPA and DHA and do not need to be converted before being used by the body. For this reason, some experts argue fish oil is a more efficient and, therefore, effective Omega 3 source than plant oils.

When eating flaxseeds as a source of Omega 3, remember to grind the seeds to release the oil. Otherwise, the seed may be digested whole and eliminated, before releasing their Omega 3 oils.

Tips for Boosting your Omega 3 Intake

Recognizing that many of us are deficient in Omega 3s, here are some tips to boost your Omega 3 consumption for the benefit of your health:

  • Eat cold water fish at least twice a week. This is one of the most efficient (and delicious) ways to get Omega 3 benefits. One caveat is to not eat excessive amounts of tuna or swordfish especially, if pregnant or a child. The USDA caution pregnant women and children to limit their intake. Wild salmon and smaller fish like sardines are a better bet than tuna and swordfish, when excess mercury is a concern.
Chia Seeds – South America’s Wonder Seed to Achieve Omega 3 Benefits
Another seed that is Omega 3 rich, even more so than flax, are Chia Seeds (salvia hispanica). They are traditionally grown in Mexico but are now widely available. The seeds are high in protein, fiber and Omega 3s. The advantage of the chia seed is that, unlike the flax seed, it need not be ground to release the Omega 3s –chewing does the trick. It has a pleasant nutty flavor and can be sprinkled on porridge, cereals, salads and yogurt.
  • Eat a variety of raw seeds including chia, flax and walnut. As mentioned seeds are good sources of Omega 3s. As well they contain minerals and Vitamin E, an important antioxidant, and they imbue food with a delicious nutty flavor. To ensure, they retain their maximum Omega 3 content, buy seeds raw (toasting, like any heat process, may destroy a portion of the Omega 3 content) and grind as needed. Store in air tight containers away from heat and light.
  • Consume high quality cold pressed flax oil. Drizzle on salads and cooked vegetables and use in dips. The taste is an exquisite nutty one. Again ensure your flax oil is properly stored to prevent oxidation.
High Quality Oils
Chemical processing contaminates many supermarket vegetable oils; alternatively or in addition high temperature used in the process can oxidize the fats and produce damaging free radicals. The Solution? Favor less processed oil that are mechanically pressed without heat (Look for the words “cold pressed”) or no chemicals. Avoid chemically extracted oils or oils processed via high heat – Unfortunately the majority of oils found on the grocery store shelf are of this type. An exception is Extra Virgin Olive oil that is generally cold or mechanically pressed.

Omega 3 Supplements – an Efficient Way to Get Omega 3 Benefits

While the best way to get Omega 3s is through the food you eat, because you obtain many additional nutrients as well as the pleasure food provides, supplements are a convenient source for the Omega 3 deficient among us.

  • Fish oil capsules – a standard dosage of fish oil is 1,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA. To avoid the mercury issue ensure you buy molecularly distilled fish oil. Most manufacturers say so on the label. Talk with your doctor before supplementing, especially if you have a health condition. The effects of fish oil can be substantial and may conflict with your other medication, especially blood thinners, pain meds and anti-depressants.
  • Flax Oil - If vegan or adverse to eating animal products, you may prefer consuming flax oil on your food or via pills. A standard dose is two tablespoons a day.

Some experts consider Omega 3s found in Fish Oil (EPA and DHA) the most effective for health conditions, as the plant based Omega 3s ALA must be converted before being utilized by the body.

Holford Seed Mix for Omega 3 Omega Benefits
Patrick Holford, the British nutritionist and author of The New Optimum Nutrition Biblehas a seed mix that he claims comprises a healthy ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. To make, fill an air tight jar half full of flax seeds with the remaining half equal amounts sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Store in the refrigerator so away from light, heat and oxygen. Grind, as needed, and sprinkle on porridge, salads, cereals or yogurt. Aim to consume one tablespoon per day.

Other Nutrients required to Realize Omega 3 benefits

For that conversion of Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils into the health protective prostaglandins, various nutrients or cofactors are needed. These include sufficient vitamin C, B3 and B6 as well and magnesium and zinc. It follows that consuming a healthy balanced diet is essential for overall health as well as achieving Omega 3 benefits.

When seeking Omega 3 Benefits –don’t forget other fats

Increasing your Omega 3 intake is likely beneficial for your body and brain, especially, if you have been consuming the typical Western diet. However, work to decrease your fat intake from other sources at the same time and don’t forgot other fats important for your brain and body.

  • Avoid trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. They are bad for your health and interfere with the function of cellular membranes and health promoting prostaglandins.
  • Reduce the amount of saturated fat. This means reducing fat from animal products including red and white meat and high fat dairy products.
  • Use extra virgin olive oil. Studies have shown many benefits from consuming monounsaturated rich olive oil. This cold pressed and unrefined oil, unlike most of the other heat and chemically processed grocery store vegetable oils, contains health giving phytochemicals and anti-oxidants that may explain olive oil’s beneficial effects on health.

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