A new study from England found that women who consume more omega 3s have a healthier mix of gut bacteria. These bacteria have been found to reduce the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Omega 3s are a group of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids). There are three kinds of omega 3s. Those known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are mostly found in fish.A study from Harvard University found that omega 3s raise levels of a hormone called adiponectin, which increases insulin sensitivity. Researchers felt this might help prevent or control Type 2 diabetes.
A third type, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in plants. The body can use ALA to produce small amounts of the other types.
All three types help reduce inflammation, prevent heart disease and stroke, and decrease insulin resistance. They seem to prevent depression and help with brain function. EPA seems to be especially important to help brains grown in childhood and to keep them strong in old age.
The other major category of PUFA is omega-6 fatty acids.
We need them, too, and in close to equal amounts with omega 3s. Both types help the body make hormones that tend to balance each other out. For example, omega-6-derived hormones may start inflammation the body uses to fight infection. Omega-3-derived hormones stop inflammation when the fight is over.
The problem is the modern food environment.
According to an article in Nutrition Journal, “A healthy diet should consist of roughly one to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. The typical American diet tends to contain 11 to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3.”
Grain-fed meat and processed foods are extremely high in omega 6, so people get far too much. We need to eat more omega 3 and cut down omega 6 to regain balance.
Holistic doctor Andrew Weil, MD, believes that, “The imbalance [between omega 6 and omega 3] may explain the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity, and neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body. The imbalance may also contribute to obesity, depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity, and even a tendency toward violence.”
How to get your omega 3s
The richest source of omega 3s is fatty fish, such as sardines, mackerel, herring, and salmon. Cod liver oil, which parents used to give their kids back in the day, is a tremendous source.
You mostly have to get EPA and DHA from seafood, but you can get ALA from plant sources, and your body can convert some of it to EPA. Some food sources of ALA are flaxseeds or oil, chia seeds or oil, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, tofu, walnuts, and walnut oil.
You probably don’t eat much of those, except maybe the soy and walnuts, but a lot of your PUFA intake comes from the cooking oil you use. When you buy fried food at a restaurant, it’s probably been cooked in omega-6 oil. Vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower, and cottonseed are nearly all omega 6. Often these are packaged in bottles that simply say “vegetable oil.”
Many websites say a better alternative may be canola (rapeseed) oil, which is much higher in omega 3. But some authorities caution against canola, because it is a genetically modified product and has usually been heavily processed. I’m not sure who is right about this. I still use canola oil in my kitchen.
Cooking with olive oil will give more omega 3s, but it’s expensive. I would recommend olive oil in salad dressings, but in frying, the best plan may be to fry less, to use canola oil when you do fry, and to sauté or parboil more.
If you’re going to eat meat, you don’t want it to be from grain-fed animals.
Grass-fed beef is 4–7 times higher in omega 3 than commercial, grain-fed beef. Butter from grass-fed cows is also higher in omega 3 and lower in omega 6 than butter from grain-fed cows.
You can buy dairy products or eggs enriched with omega 3s, or just skip the food and buy omega-3 capsules.
Another vegetarian source is algae or seaweed. That’s where the fish get it. You can buy seaweed wafers to eat, which I very much like. There is also algae oil, which is made into vegetarian omega-3 capsules.
The main thing is to limit intake of processed foods and fast foods, because those are almost always full of omega-6 oils.
Want to learn more about omega-3 fatty acids and health? Read “Essential Fatty Acids in Health and Disease” and “Essential Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know: Part 1,” “Part 2,” “Part 3,” and “Part 4.”