Useful and Harmful Fats: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Still thinking that the fats in our diet are all the same? Then read this article

When you enquire about which products in our diet are the most harmful, you will most likely be told about fats. Of course, we should avoid consuming fats in large amounts, and some of them may provoke certain health issues, and of course, expand our waist line as well. Yet, contrary to popular belief, there are some fats which are vitally important for us, and which we should consume regularly.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids fall to this category, and can be found in such food products as: nuts, some fruit and vegetables, and cold water fish (herring, mackerel, sturgeon, anchovy, salmon, etc). These are not only necessary for the healthy functioning of our cell membranes, they also protect us from many factors that are harmful to our health.

Omega-3 fatty acids play a prominent role in reducing the risks of heart and blood vessel issues. This includes stroke, as well as a decrease in the severity of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, some skin illnesses, rheumatic issues and painful joints. As researchers have proved, omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for the immune system, and can save us from a number of disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease in particular.

What is the secret influence these acids have on human health? As experts state, they stimulate chemical substances which control inflammation in the joints, tissues and blood. Yet, the most important function of Omega-3 acids is to neutralize the negative effect of another type of fatty acid – Omega-6. The latter is not totally harmful to our health, however; as in the right amount it reduces cholesterol, is good for the skin, and makes our blood “sticky”, that is, it helps facilitate blood clotting. The thing is that Omega-6 should be balanced with Omega-3, if it is to have a healthy effect. The natural sources of Omega-6 fatty acids comprise: bakery products, poultry, cereals, oil, eggs and margarine.

An excessive concentration of Omega-6 provokes thrombi (fibrinous clots which form inside, and obstruct blood vessels; or form in one of the heart’s chambers. These are dangerous as they can result in stoke and infraction. In this case, the blood becomes too “sticky”. Yet, conversely, Omega-3 fatty acids eliminate the risk of heart issues which can be caused by too much Omega-6.

As recent studies show, the beneficial effect of these two kinds of fatty acids is achieved with the correct balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6. The proper proportion of Omega-3 to Omega-6 should be a ratio of 4:1. Yet most people do not achieve this. Typically, in a Western diet, the ratio can be up to 20:1, and this is a problem. To counter this, you should consume fewer products containing Omega-6, and eat more with Omega-3.

How to achieve the desired result

Omega-3 fatty acids do not just consist of one nutrient. They contain several components, and eicosapentaenoic and decahexanoic acids, in particular. They are saturated in coldwater fish, and this is why most individuals lack them. The reason is that most people are afraid to consume fish after reading numerous articles that warn about Mercury and other harmful chemicals found in fish. This is a mistake though.

Some people misunderstand experts’ recommendations, as they are taken out of context, or are not written by experts at all. Scientists say that if you eat 350 grams of fish per week, it is completely safe. Yet this only equals half the required amount. According to recommendations by nutritionists, people should eat fish twice a week, and this should amount to 700 grams.

Experts state that in order to prevent heart issues, people should have at least two portions of various fatty fish per week (salmon, mackerel, or tuna). And those who suffer from heart disease, need 1 gram of Omega-3 per day, preferably from fatty fish. 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acid is supplied by 50 grams of such fish. Even if you dislike fish, there are some other options for obtaining Omega-3.

Omega 3 can be taken from plants as well as linseeds in particular, as they are extremely rich in Omega-3. One can say without any exaggeration, that this is the most nutritious source of Omega-3. Despite the fact that there is no EPA (eicosapentaenoic), or DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in it, the linseeds saturate alpha-linolenic acid, and our bodies can use it to manufacture both EPA and DHA.

Nowadays, it is easy to buy linseeds, and one can find linseed oil as well as wholesome and ground linseeds online and in shops. Even though linseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid, it is better to purchase wholesome seeds, as they also provide 3 grams of fiber per tablespoon, and also contain phytoestrogens. Other products rich in Omega-3 include: rapeseed oil, spinach, broccoli, Peking cabbage, musk melon, beans, grape leaves, cauliflower and walnuts. A handful of walnuts (approximately 30 grams) has around 2.5 grams of Omega-3. This is almost the same as 100 grams of salmon!

Alongside consuming more Omega-3, you may like to include a third type of Omega acids in your diet to replace Omega-6. This is Omega-9 (oleic acid), a monounsaturated fat which is mostly found in olive oil. This will be beneficial for your heart. Actually, Omega-9 can be produced by the body, so its nutrients may seem less important than others. However, by replacing oils with Omega-6, you may be able to restore the balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6, which will definitely be good for your health. Components of olive oil may increase the body’s ‘good’ cholesterol, and this factor contributes to your heart’s health as well.

Dietary supplements VS natural food products

If you think the easiest way to get some Omega-3 is to eat fish oil capsules, you may be mistaken. The fact of the matter is that nutrients from natural foods are absorbed in our body by 90%, while those from dietary supplements are assimilated by just 50%. Besides, different food ingredients work together when combined, and they produce a more diverse and balanced source of nutrition. For example, fish does not only contain Omega-3, which is better for health; it also contains amino acids (protein building blocks), something which fish oil capsules lack.

Also, such diet supplements won’t save you from the contamination you want to escape by refusing to eat fish. Dietary supplements are not regulated by legislation, so some of them may contain concentrated toxins which may be found in fresh fish. What is more, such supplements may cause you to smell bad, as the oil in them is too strong. Also, from an expert’s perspective, there is a risk of overdosing on fish oil capsules as well, especially if you consume more than specified in the instructions. The danger implies bleeding or bruises. This risk is eliminated when you obtain the required nutrients with food.

There are cases when dietary supplements of fish oil can contribute to health. They are useful when you need to reduce the level of harmful triglycerides which provoke heart issues. Scientists advise people who suffer from a high level of triglycerides to take 2-4 grams of Omega-3 in capsule form, as they supply EPA and DHA. Nevertheless, people should not take these supplements without professional recommendation.