Are you getting your daily requirement of omega-3s, and how do you know?
The technical term for these nutritional powerhouses is omega-3 fatty acids. They fall under the larger heading of polyunsaturated fats, the healthy fats we need to live — and the only way to get them is through diet.
The three most important types of omega-3s are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). ALA is found in green leafy vegetables, chia seeds, and flax seeds. DHA and EPA, the two we need in higher quantities, are found in oily fish, algae oil, and krill oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is present in joint pain, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, obesity, stroke, cancer, and autoimmune diseases (asthma, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.). In fact, chronic (long-term) inflammation is present in nearly every modern disease. And diet plays an important role in this undesirable inflammation.
Omega-3s must be taken in coordination with omega-6 fatty acids, which are necessary though inflammatory, in a ratio of 1:1 to keep inflammation low and health optimal.
That's not easy with the typical American diet producing a ratio of 20:1 to 30:1, omega-6/omega-3. Omega-6s are found in vegetable oils including corn, soybean, sunflower, canola and safflower oils, meat, poultry, and eggs.
Getting omega-3s wasn't always this much of a challenge. When my father grew up on the farm, all animal products were pasture-raised, organic, grass-fed, with no added hormones or antibiotics. Wild meat and grass-fed beef contain about seven times as much omega-3 fats as industrially raised animals, which have almost none.
Fortunately, several simple dietary modifications will help increase your intake of omega-3 fats, better balance your omega-6/omega-3 ratio, and lower chronic inflammation for improved health.
Foods to help increase omega-3 fatty acids and/or reduce inflammation include: extra-virgin, cold-pressed organic olive oil; avocados; grass-fed meats; grass-fed butter; nuts — especially walnuts, macadamias, almonds, pecans; fatty fish — sardines, mackerel, herring, fresh tuna, white fish, wild salmon; and pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs.
Plant sources of omega-3s include: flax seeds and oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, broccoli. These provide the ALA of omega-3 fatty acid. Though this type is not as powerful as the DHA and EPA forms, these sources also provide fiber and other important nutrients. Everything adds up.
Since the beneficial omega-3 fats are primarily found in fish, and not everyone is a fan, fish oil and cod liver oil supplements are available. While there are no official guidelines for daily intake, most experts agree that two servings of 3.5 ounces of oily fish per week is a good start. That equals about 500 milligrams of EPA/DHA per day. For treating various health conditions, up to 4,000 milligrams per day may be recommended.
Before supplementing with omega-3s or any other supplement to treat a health condition, check with your health care professional to prevent ill effects.
Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and life coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com.