The health of our hearts is one of the most important factors in considering what we choose to eat. Foods containing Omega 3 Fatty Acids help strengthen and maintain heart health. They are placed in the group called polyunsaturated fats. These are the “good fats” for a healthy diet. There are 3 basic divisions of Omega Fatty Acids. The first two divisions are in the form of long chain Omega 3 Fatty Acids called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA come from animal sources. The third form is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a short chain Omega 3 Fatty Acid. ALA comes from plant sources.
Our bodies use ALA for the energy. EPA and DHA are elemental needs for the basic function of our cells. Omega 6 Fatty Acids are also in the polyunsaturated family. They are also found in many of the same foods Omega 3’s are found in. Omega 6 should be the lower source of fatty acids in comparison to Omega 3. Omega 6 does have its place in our diets for the pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory properties it contains. The benefits of Omega 6 help growth and aid in preventing cell damage, as well as aiding in repairing damaged cells.
Still considering the fact that we need both Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids, it is relevant that both are used by like enzymes. When the intake of much more Omega 6 is being consumed over Omega 3 it affects how the body processes each one. Essentially, they compete with each other for the enzymes to use. Therefore, an excess of Omega 6 is likely to cause the enzymes to use much more of it.
The ratio of intake of Omega 6 and Omega 3 is crucial. Too much Omega 6 can actually cause more damage to the body by causing arthritis, inflammation, heart disease, and even cancer. In today’s society we are inundated with foods high in Omega 6 fatty acids, especially in processed foods. Vegetable oils including corn, safflower, sunflower, and soy oils all contain a very large ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3. Better oils to use in baking and in frying include avocado, canola, olive, and peanut oils. These have a much lower amount of Omega 6. This makes our choices of foods we eat significant to our health, since much of what we purchase to eat is loaded with Omega 6.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids reduce the risk of heart disease. They help to regulate the rhythm of the heart’s beats. Existing inflammation in the body can contribute to poor circulation becoming harmful to blood vessels. This can cause blood clots leading to strokes, as well as fatal heart attacks. Omega 3 diminishes this inflammation and decreases high blood pressure. High triglycerides can contribute to vessel blockage. Another heart healthy benefit of eating Omega 3 rich food is seeing a reduction in high triglyceride numbers.
EPA and DHA are found in all fish and shellfish. There are varying amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids in each type of fish and shellfish. The fish with the highest Omega 3 content per 3 ounce cooked serving are Herring, Mackerel, Salmon, and Tuna. Although, in comparison, Bluefin Tuna contains more Omega 3’s than White Albacore Tuna. Next highest would be Sardines, Swordfish, Trout, Oysters, and Mussels. All of the other types of fish and shellfish have lower quantities of EPA and DHA per 3 ounce cooked serving. The fat from grass-fed beef and enriched grain-fed animal meat, such as chickens, have EPA and DHA, also.
ALA is found in fruits such as raspberries and strawberries, and vegetables of the green leafy varieties, as well as squash. Nuts contain ALA, with the highest amount per serving being in English Walnuts. Legumes such as Soybeans, Tofu, and Miso contain ALA, as do seeds. Although, Flaxseed, Chia, Sesame, Sunflower, and Pumpkin Seeds have the highest Omega 3 content, Seed Oils and Vegetable Oils also contain ALA.
For people who are unable to eat fish or shellfish for allergy reasons, or do not eat any kind of meat, consuming enough ALA through plant sources is entirely possible. Although, EPA and DHA are not able to be produced by the body alone, the body can take the ALA and convert it to a small amount of EPA and DHA. The down side is ALA cannot produce all of the EPA and DHA the body needs. Therefore, supplementing with more Omega 3 fatty acids that contain EPA and DHA is necessary so that properties can still be given to the body for much needed heart health.
It is important to understand that it is better for the body to receive Omega 3 Fatty Acids in natural forms, over supplemental forms, whenever possible. Natural forms are those considered grown from the soil, marine life, and livestock. One supplement is fish oil or krill oil in pill form. Dairy products, such as yogurt are supplemented with Omega 3. The dairy products may contain a decent amount of Omega 3 due to proper feeding of the animals, but the pasteurization process eliminates some of it. It is perfectly fine to receive some of your Omega 3 through dairy foods, just remember to include other sources, as well.
When deciding to supplement with fish oil or krill oil pills, speak with your doctor or a dietician to determine how much to take. There has been some concern in research that the amount of mercury from fish can do harm to the body in excessive amounts. The benefit of eating fish or supplementing with fish oil pills still outweighs the risks of the mercury intake when eating fish 2 to 3 times a week. It will place the necessary EPA and DHA our bodies need to maintain basic cell functions.
Many processed foods are supplemented by Omega 3. Eggs, Soy Milk, and Baby Food are all supplemented. Many people are not getting enough EPA and DHA through the natural foods for different reasons. Although, turning to the supplements isn’t always the first and best choice, it can still help increase the intake for people whose diets are falling short of the appropriate values. In some parts of the world, there are fewer choices to place into the diet to keep the Omega 3 consistent. Again, this is when supplementation is encouraged and needed.
The benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids clearly prove that we must think about what we eat. ALA is what our bodies use for energy. EPA and DHA are used for cell maintenance. The importance of Omega 3 Fatty Acids is to help cell membrane functions in all parts of the body. Cell receptors are the part of cell membranes that are responsible for beginning to make hormones the body needs to control some of its basic functions. Omega 3 Fatty Acids also bind to these receptors and help tell cells to make proteins. So now we know why all the talk about Omega 3 Fatty Acids is so relevant to our lives!