You’ve heard about essential fats in the media and you know they’re important, but do you know why and how to balance your essential fatty acid intake? Let’s explore this. First off, essential fatty acids are considered “essential” because they’re required for optimal health, but our body can’t produce them so we must consume them through our food or supplementation.
There are two families of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6, and each have different effects on our body. Both fatty acids are important, but the real key is to consume omega-3 and omega-6 in a balanced ratio to maintain health. When out of balance, excess intake of omega-6 promotes inflammation, increases blood clotting, and depresses the immune system. On the other hand, omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, increases circulation, and enhances the immune system. Here’s what you may not realize…the modern Western diet has negatively shifted this crucial balance by the availability of too much omega-6 on a daily basis from refined vegetable oils, processed foods, meats, and too little intake of omega-3. One exception is a uniquely beneficial type of omega-6 found in borage oil, evening primrose oils, black currant oil, spirulina (a blue-green algae), and hemp seeds.
Let’s look at several ways to keep your essential fatty acid intake in balance.
First, reflect on how much vegetable oil you may eat. Omega-6 is found in high concentrations from the oils of corn, safflower, sunflower, and soy. Whether you’re eating these oils as an ingredient in convenient, processed foods or adding it during cooking, consider decreasing the quantity and using more walnut, flaxseed, or canola oils. Store your walnut and flaxseed oil in dark glass containers and avoid heating them on the stove. So go ahead and use them to make a salad dressing instead of sautéing your vegetables in them. Think about including borage, evening primrose oil, or black currant oil in your diet.
Second, reflect on your intake or lack thereof of omega-3. Fish such as salmon, tuna, scallops, cod, sardines, mackerel, crab, halibut, and herring are great sources of omega-3. The plant based form of omega-3 is found in flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, kale, and collard greens. Unfortunately, it is now well-known only a small amount of the plant based omega-3 is converted in our bodies to the form of omega-3 important for all the health benefits. Fish is the best food source of omega-3, and due to concerns about toxins such as mercury, consider a balance between eating 6 ounces per week and taking a purified fish oil supplement. Look for eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the supplement you choose. To understand more about EPA and DHA, look out for my next blog which will get into the specifics.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RD
Nutritionist for Healthy Goods