Why omega 3 and omega 6 fats are healthy. Food and supplement sources and the benefits of these fats is explained.
The word is out, fat is good for you after all. The so-called ‘good fats’ are actually essential fatty acids which are required for peak health. They are essential because the body cannot manufacture them- they must be obtained from food or supplements. Sources include flax seeds, cold water fish and evening primrose oil. With essential fatty acid intake critically low in North America, obtaining beneficial fats in a variety of ways is necessary and tasty to boot. Special care must be taken to ensure the benefits are obtained from these sensitive oils…and no, French fries and potato chips don’t count!
What Essential Fats Do
Fats comprise every cell membrane in the body. Their role is to let nutrients in and wastes out, thereby enabling proper cell function, growth, repair and replication. Essential fats balance healthy weight, control inflammation, and store energy. The amount of beneficial fats in the diet as well as age, gender and special needs determines how much of each oil is needed to supplement. To build a body of healthy cells, start with the omega three family. This group of fats influences the health of the heart, hormones and joints. They also support brain function.
Food Sources of Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fats
Flax seeds are the richest vegetarian source of omega three fat. They contain the parent Alpha- Linolenic Acid or ALA which is converted in the body to the daughter Eicosapentanoic Acid (EPA) and granddaughter Decosahexanoic Acid (DHA). These fats support memory, mood and cognitive function among other benefits. The essential fatty acid omega six as well as omega nine and some saturated fat are all contained in flaxseeds making them a balanced source of fats. Another feature of flaxseeds are lignans, molecules with anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-cancer properties. Flax seeds and oils are indicated for those who otherwise have very few omega six oils in their diet.
Evening Primrose oil and Borage oil are sources of an omega 6 fat called Gamma-linoleic Acid (GLA) that benefit the female reproductive system and reduce PMS symptoms. GLA also builds lustrous hair, skin and nails. To get the most out of these beneficial oils, reduce intake of processed omega 6 oils from dressings and prepared foods. These oils are available in supplement form.
For those who need to focus on omega three fats and specific amounts of EPA and DHA, fresh and cold processed fish oils are a direct source. Salmon, tuna, anchovy mackerel and sardines eaten three times a week and/or supplemented will show positive effects on inflammation, brain function, heart health, skin, hair and nails. Cod liver oil is another omega three source which has the added benefit of fat soluble vitamins A and D.
When to Supplement
Supplemental blends of oils are available for women, children and adults to address various needs. Emulsified oils are helpful for anyone with liver, gall bladder or digestive challenges as they contain fats which are reduced in size and easier to absorb. Look for products that are cold or expeller pressed and that have been third party tested for toxins and PCBs. Also check the expiry dates, keep them refrigerated, in dark containers and use them up promptly. It’s important to find the right balance of omegas that complements the current dietary intake. Too much of a good thing is possible, even with healthy fats. For specific guidelines, consult your health care practitioner.
Increasing the intake of omega three fats and supplementing the others where necessary is one of the foundations of sound health. Noticeable changes in memory, mood, appearance and inflammation will result. Lubricated joints and improved weight management as well as heart health are also benefits of the good fats. Heated and processed oils reverse this process so cutting down on those French fries and potato chips is important. Enjoy the fish, nuts, seeds with essential fats and remember to take your supplements with meals. Share the news with family- it’s essential to chew the fat.