This is another guest post from my talented intern and nutrition student Coco Noel.
You’ve heard enough about the elusive “Omega 3s” to know they’re not a Christian rock band. But you’re still unclear:Should you buy fish oil? Opt for the flaxseed granola? Atlantic or Alaskan salmon?But what about mercury? Eat omega 3-enriched eggs? How about walnuts?
Is the room spinning yet? Before your confusion leads you to seriously consider the merits of eating green eggs and ham (hint: there are none), I’ll explain the basics of essential omega fatty acids, why they matter, and outline simple ways you can utilize them for good health.
Omega 3 FAQ: Sorting the Facts from the Fiction!
What are they?
Both omega 3 and omega 6 are essential fatty acids, which means your body can’t make them on its own, so you have to get them from food.
Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory, slow down cell growth, and have anticoagulant properties.
There are two main types of omega 3s:
DHA and EPA are found primarily in fish and shellfish.
ALA is found mainly in plant sources (walnuts, flax and chia seeds), and doesn’t offer the potent health effects as DHA and EPA.
Omega 6s can increase inflammation, encourage cell growth, and aid in blood clotting.
Our bodies perform best when we take in a balance of omega 6 to omega 3. The ideal ratio falls somewhere between 1:1 to 3:1 of omega 6:omega 3. Unfortunately, the average American is taking in a ratio of about 20:1. This creates a continual state of inflammation in the body – prime conditions for chronic disease, cancer growth, and premature aging.
Fish Oil Supplements Aren’t the Answer
While ingesting large amounts of omega 3-rich fish oil supplements may seem like the obvious solution, it’s not. Omega 3s are very fragile and the extraction process almost always subjects them to high temperatures, processing, and chemical solvents to take away that fishy odor…you don’t really think that strawberry-flavored fish oil comes from a strawberry-flavored fish, do you?
It’s estimated that 25-50% of fish oil supplements are rancid before you even open the bottle. This means that once that oxidized fish oil is in your body, it’s going to encourage a state of inflammation –the opposite of what you want!
Recent research suggests that the best and safest way to achieve a healthy ratio of omega 6:3 isn’t by trying “even out” the balance by ingesting copious amounts of omega 3s – even if the supplement is of good quality. Rather, it’s recommended that you simply adjust your diet so that you’re taking in fewer omega 6s in favor of more omega 3s.
Eat Your Way to a Perfect Balance
- Eat seafood!
- Between 2-4 times per week,
- Reach for sustainable, omega 3-rich seafood such as:
Wild Alaskan salmon (avoid farm-raised salmon, which includes those labeled Atlantic or pink)
Albacore tuna—contains notably higher levels of omega 3 than chunk light (limit to 6 ounces per week)
Find a great quality online source for seafood here
The benefits of eating fish far outweigh any risks. While mercury toxicity is often touted as a reason to shy away from seafood, most ocean fish is very high in selenium, which is protective against mercury.
- Choose grass fed beef and dairy
While all cows have similar levels of omega 6s, milk, butter and meat from grass fed cows are higher in omega 3s than cows raised on grain. In fact, grass is full of the omega 3 fatty acid ALA, which grass fed cows convert to the higher-quality DHA and EPA. Amazing!!!
A great source of grass fed beef can be found here
- Eat Pastured chickens and eggs
An article from Mother Earth News found that eggs from pastured chickens – that is, those gals who are roaming the countryside eating seeds, bugs and grasses – contain two times more omega 3 than eggs from factory farmed chickens.
- Limit nuts.
Walnuts contain 10 times more omega 6 than omega 3. Almonds provide almost no omega 3 whatsoever. Because the omega 6 fats in nuts are packaged in a whole food with other nutrients, like selenium, fiber and vitamin E, which can prevent rancidity, it isn’t necessary to avoid them altogether. But moderation is key; they are fine snacks, but should not be counted on to supply a significant amount of protein or calories.
- Flax and chia seeds are plant sources of omega 3.
These are fine to include in your diet, but our bodies cannot efficiently convert the ALA to DHA/EPA.
- Keep flax refrigerated and buy the whole seed; if you want to grind it, do it yourself with a blender or food processor to decrease oxidation.
Run in the Other Direction
- Reconsider chicken as your main protein source: Eat dark meat poultry in moderation because this is where the omega 6 is concentrated.
- Avoid industrialized seed oils. Soybean, cottonseed, corn and anything labeled “vegetable” oils are very high in omega 6. At restaurants, request that your food be cooked in butter than rather vegetable oil.
- Avoid isolating the omega 6 in the form of nut oil, which is prone to oxidation and doesn’t come packed with protective nutrients that are found in whole nuts. Coconut oil, ghee, butter, and olive oil are better options.
Note: A cold-pressed fermented cod liver oil offers nominal amounts of omega 3, but is packaged as a multi-nutrient whole food and isn’t plagued by the same over-processing and striping of nutrients as fish oils.
-by Coco Noel
Be sure to check out Coco’s facebook page
Share this article with your friends who may be confused about omega’s 3s!
For more info about Omega 3 read my article about Fish Oil Do’s and Don’ts.
Find the only Fish oil I recommend here: