We are all aware of the importance of keeping up the levels of omega 3 in our diet, however, we are not always aware of the specific benefits of omega 3s and how they protect and nourish our bodies. Although we may try to include a range of foods containing omega 3s in our diet, how can we be sure we are getting enough?
Why do we need Omega 3s?
Your body cannot produce omega 3s, hence the name ‘essential fatty acid’, as it is essential to your body for optimal health. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential in maintaining and regulating various functions in the body. Omega 3s assist the body to guard against heart disease and maintain general heart health.
The benefits of omega 3s extend beyond heart health and can also assist with:
- regulating and lowering blood pressure,
- protecting the body against stroke,
- lowering cholesterol
- reducing the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
They are also known to assist brain function, guard against symptoms of depression and other psychological conditions, and omega 3 fatty acid is also known to play a role in bone health and the prevention of dementia symptoms.
Eat more omega 3 and less omega 6 to maintain a healthy balance
Omega 3s and omega 6s compete in the body for absorption. Quite simply, if you eat more omega 3s, your body will absorb less omega 6s. If you eat more omega 6s, your body will absorb less omega 3s.
If you eat more omega 3s, the effect is anti-inflammatory. And if you overload the body with omega 6s, the effect is an increase in inflammation. The increase in omega 6s is a modern western diet phenomenon and is the cause of many preventable health issues.
The recommended optimal omega 6 to omega 3 is around 4:1 – that is, four parts omega 6 to one part omega 3
The modern diet, due to an increase in a number of vegetable oils, can have a ratio of up to 25:1 – this is not the ideal balance of omega 6 and omega 3.
As a general rule of thumb, it is important to increase your omega 3 intake to balance out the omega 6s in your diet.
Food sources high in omega 3 (eat more)
Most fish and seafood contain omega 3s. High levels can be found in mackerel, salmon, anchovies, caviar, sardines, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts.
Food sources high in omega 6 (eat less)
Avoid oils such as sunflower oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and peanut oil.
Important note: Although flaxseed oil contains omega 6, this is an oil you should still incorporate into your diet, as flaxseed oil contains the highest amount of omega 3s of all the edible oils.
Processed foods and omega 6
It’s important to check the nutrition facts on any processed foods you consume. Many of these foods contain omega 6 in the form of vegetable oils, and should be avoided to preserve and maintain healthy omega 3 levels. When eating out, keep in mind that many restaurants use oils high in omega 6, such as soybean oil. If in doubt, you can ask your waiter or chef, just to make sure. The main foods to avoid are deep fried foods, pre-made cakes and pastries, various salad dressings and mayonnaise, processed meats such as salami and pressed chicken, fast food burgers and fried chicken.
Note: Many nuts and grains contain omega 6 but are still recommended to eat because they are a whole food and have significant nutritional benefits for the body. Aim to eliminate processed foods high in omega 6, such as vegetable oils, to achieve the maximum health benefits.
Grass fed vs grain fed
If you can, seek out grass-fed meats to boost your omega 3 intake. Grain fed meats are fine, but you can supercharge your omega 3 levels by selecting grass-fed meats and meats without hormones and additional processing.
Grass-fed dairy products are another excellent way to boost your omega 3 levels. Grass-fed butter is easy to obtain from your local supermarket, and many specialty deli stores carry grass-fed butters and cheeses. The extra effort is worth it for the long-term health benefits and as a bonus, grass-fed dairy foods also taste great!
Omega 3 enriched eggs are a great source of omega 3 essential fatty acids, although eggs are still considered a good source of omega 3s, despite their omega 6 content.
Get your omega 3 levels tested
If you are unsure of your omega 3 levels, as most of us are, you may want to get your omega 3 levels tested with an omega 3 health check. An omega 3 health check is a simple, in-pharmacy test will let you know where you stand regarding your omega 3 levels and inform you of the necessary supplementation required to get you back to your optimum level.
The majority of people who eat a modern diet are not getting the required omega 3s necessary for a healthy omega 6 to omega 3 balance.
What’s A pharmacy-omega 3 test?
A pharmacy-omega 3 test is simple and is easy to do. You simply purchase the kit and your pharmacist will then take a blood sample to send away for testing.
As soon as your test results arrive, your pharmacist will discuss your results with you and recommend supplements for achieving a healthy level of omega 3. Once supplementation is undertaken, another test can be done to measure the increase in omega 3 levels. Your pharmacist will then discuss your ongoing supplementation (if necessary) and any dietary modifications needed to boost your omega 3s.
Do I need more omega 3 in my diet?
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you most likely need a substantial boost of omega 3 in your diet. This can be done through supplementation through non-animal product seeds and oils such as flaxseed oil.
If you eat processed foods or have eaten a large amount of processed foods in the past, you will also require omega 3 supplementation. It takes some time to redress the balance between an excess of omega 6 in the diet and a deficiency in omega 3. Most people, unless on a fish-based diet, will need some kind of omega 3 supplementations to redress the balance. The good news is, it is easy to boost omega 3 levels with a supplementation program and your body will thank you for it.
The best omega 3 supplements
Finding the best omega 3 supplement is a simple process. Always read the label to make sure your supplement contains both the essential long-chain fatty acids known as DHA and EPA. Since the goal of omega 3 supplementation is to boost your body with anti-inflammatory fatty acids, it’s important to make sure your supplement is packed with antioxidants to optimise your omega 3 levels.
Krill oil– krill oil is an excellent omega 3 supplement, packed with antioxidants and a good dose of DHA + EPA. The advantages of krill oil are the small size of the capsules and an odourless taste, hence no ‘fishy’ aftertaste! The DHA + EPA content is similar to fish liver oils, but comes in a smaller capsule for easier swallowing.
Fish liver oil – fish liver oils are a readily available source of omega 3 supplementation. The average 1000mg capsule of fish oil will contain around 300mg of DHA + EPA. Possible disadvantages are the size of the capsules and the ‘fishy’ smell. Thankfully, you can get odourless fish oil capsules so you don’t walk around with fish breath!
Flaxseed oil – contains ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) rather than DHA + EPA. ALA requires higher levels of intake and is less readily absorbed by the body compared with DHA + EPA. This is still a good source of omega 3 for vegetarians and vegans and, although the dosage requirements may be higher, the source is plant, rather than animal based. Since higher doses are recommended, a liquid flaxseed oil supplement is optimal, requiring between at least one to three tablespoons per day.
An added bonus of flaxseed oil is that it also contains phytoestrogens that guard against osteoporosis, promote optimal heart health, and can alleviate the symptoms of female hormone imbalances. Always check with your doctor to make sure phytoestrogens are recommended for your particular needs.
Note: when storing omega 3 oils and supplements, keep your oils refrigerated for optimal potency.
Once you have your omega 3 levels checked and monitored, it’s a simple process to keep up your omega 3 regimen to maintain optimal levels. A good balance of omega 6 to omega 3 levels will help you to keep your body in balance and guard against any inflammatory-based disorders. When your omega 3 levels are topped up, you will feel healthier, your skin will be smooth and supple and your body will perform at its best. A diet high in seafood, flaxseed oil and omega 3 supplements can help you keep your body in peak condition. Here’s to your health!
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