Omega-3 fats have reached an almost painfully trendy status over the last few years. Health food companies are marketing chia and hemp seeds as reliable sources of omega 3s, but there’s more to know about these essential fatty acids than what they’re telling us.
Omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids are “essential,” meaning the body isn’t capable of producing them on its own. Thus, we must consume them through food and supplementation to reap the benefits. Many foods contain a combination of omega fats, and omega-6s are much more prevalent in the Standard American Diet than omega-3 and 9.
An imbalance in essential fatty acid consumption leads to inflammation, and is attributed to a very high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. In order to balance this ratio, it is crucial to avoid oils like canola, soybean, and vegetable, and to incorporate more anti-inflammatory omega-3 foods into the diet.
Omega-3s are present in an array of foods, but not all are created equal.
While the chia seed sales rep may tell you differently, omega-3s come in three unique forms, and the body manages each differently.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): Found in some plant foods such as walnuts, flax, and chia seeds and some pastured meat. It is converted to DHA and EPA via a series of specific steps. This process, however, is not very efficient.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Found in cold water wild-caught fish. It is a storage fatty acid that the body shortens (retroconverts) and saturates to form EPA for precursors to hormones. Supports membranes of the brain and eyes.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Similar to DHA in that it is found in highest quantities in seafood like sardines and salmon. It is the immediate precursor to prostaglandins and eicosanoids, which support tissue repair, reduce inflammation, and promote hormone balance.
To put it simply, EPA and DHA are the golden ticket to anti-inflammation. Fish oil supplements boost high quantities of these omega-3s because they are immediately available to the body for use and storage. In other words, they are bioavailable. When it comes to nutrition therapy, we must always consider not only what we’re eating, but also what the body is readily capable of digesting, using, and absorbing.
ALA allows for omega-3 fats to be consumed from vegan food sources, and can be an easy addition to dishes like smoothies, salads, and homemade breakfast cereals. But alpha-linolenic acid has to be converted in order to receive the full anti-inflammatory benefits of the other omega-3 fats. If the body is stressed or the digestive process impaired, chances are high that conversion won’t take place effectively.
Omega-3 fats are best consumed from sources of cold water and wild-caught fish, as the content of omega-3 fat is high and completely bioavailable to the body. Consider supplementing with a high quality fish oil if you aren’t comfortable with eating fish.
Keep inflammation down with a balanced diet that is low in sugar and poor quality oils, and high in organic vegetables, nuts, pastured eggs and meat, and cold water fish.
Be sure to consider that although chia seed pudding is trendy and tasty, it may not actually contain the anti-inflammatory benefits that sales marketers lead you to believe.
Anneliese is a certified Master Nutrition Therapist and graduate of NTI. Utilizing personal experience and an extensive background in holistic nutrition, Anneliese targets gut health when working with clients to reverse degenerative and inflammatory conditions. Visit Wildflower Family Wellness for more information!