When I start talking about omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, clients’ eyes gloss over a bit or they just say something along the lines of “I know it’s good for my heart, but can you just get to the point and tell me what supplement to take?”
Yes they are good for our hearts, and you’ll probably be seeing a lot about these fatty acids during heart awareness month this September. It’s worth knowing what they are and luckily for us, they’re found in some tasty, everyday foods.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids – don’t let that throw you, the “polyunsaturated” simply refers to its chemical structure of having more than one double bond. We need them because they play a role in our vision, brain development and cognitive function, nervous systems and cell membrane composition; pretty important stuff for optimal health. And we need to eat them to get them.
So what should we be eating?
- Try oily fish (trout, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and anchovies) which contain the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. You can also use fish oils
- Opt for canola, walnut or linseed oils as well as pumpkin seeds, walnuts and linseeds which contain the short-chain fatty acid ALA
- And keep an eye out for foods enriched with omega-3 such as eggs
- Soft margarines
- Sunflower, sesame, peanut and other nut or plant oils
And how much do we need?
Turns out the balance is quite important, and it seems like we’re eating way more omega-6 simply because it’s easier to incorporate into our diets. So make the effort to eat some omega-3 enriched foods this week – two servings of fatty fish will do you good. And as always, variety in our diets is important because these fatty acids need a host of vitamins to help them do their job.
Need some ideas? Try these:
- Get your hands on some sardines, slice them open and remove the bones with a fork. Place the sardines in a baking tray (no need to add any more oil), add a pinch of salt, lots of fresh black pepper, some sliced red peppers, chopped chilli and juice from one lime. Place in the oven and roast for a few minutes. Serve with couscous, lemon juice and a fresh tomato, cucumber, red onion and basil salad.
- Make a hardboiled egg (at least 6 minutes if you want the yoke firm), allow to cool then slice and add to a vegetable salad or an open sandwich
- Take the boys fishing this weekend for some trout – if you manage to catch any, have it made into a terrine or have it cut up very finely and mixed with some plain yoghurt, a teeny tiny bit of mayo or mustard, salt and pepper and use as a topping for pasta or as an alternative to chicken mayo on a sandwich.
Some interesting info from ADSA’s omega-3 update by Megan Pentz-Kluyts in the spring newsletter:
- Omega-3 and heart disease: There is convincing evidence that replacing saturated fatty acids with polyunsaturated fatty acids decreases the risk of coronary heart disease.
- Omega 3 and hypertension: Omega-3 intake is shown to be inversely related to blood pressure, albeit with small estimated effect size. Dietary omega-3 may contribute to both the prevention as well as the control of adverse blood pressure levels.
- Omega 3 and inflammation: A recently identified lipid (fat) product our bodies make from EPA, called resolvins, helps explain how this omega-3 fat provides anti-inflammatory effects on our joints and improves blood flow.
- Omega 3 and cancer: Meta-analysis indicated that fish consumption and possibly omega-3 intake inhibits colorectal carcinogenesis.
- Omega 3 and eye health: In the Blue Mountains Eye Study population, a clear association was observed between a higher frequency of intake of fish (>1 per week) with decreased risk of late age age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Omega 3 and brain health: Fat makes up 50-60% of the brain and the nerves. DHA is the predominant structural fatty acid in the brain. DHA is particularly important in early life and may play a unique role in the structure of the eye and brain as an essential component of cell membrane. EPA plays a more functional role, as its derivatives may affect blood flow, immune system function and hormonal balance, among others.
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