For many years, omega 3 fats have been used clinically to support cardiovascular health. However, this is not the only benefit of omega 3 fats.
What are omega 3 fats? Omega 3 (AHA, DHA and EPA) fats are part of the membrane of each cell in the body. AHA is an essential fat which means you cannot produce it in your body and it must be consumed through diet. AHA can be converted in small quantities to DHA and EPA. If you have low omega 3 levels, it is important to consume DHA and EPA as well.
Where do I find these fats in my food? Omega 3 fats are found in flaxseed (ALA), chia seeds (ALA), hemp seeds (ALA), walnuts (ALA) and fish (EPA + DHA). Grass-fed animals are another source of omega 3 fats. When trying to meet your nutrient needs, it is important to maintain a consistent amount and varied sources of omega 3 fats in your diet. The daily goal for adults is 1-3 grams. It is also important to assess other sources of fats in your diet. Dr. Joseph Hibbeln at the National Institute of Health notes the American diet consists only of 20% omega 3 and 80% omega 6 fats. Omega 6 fats are inflammatory and permeate ready to eat, shelf stable, processed foods. With this said, omega 6 fats are not all bad. The problem arises with the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. Do not avoid omega 6 foods entirely (i.e. safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts). Instead, increase omega 3 food sources. As a consumer, your best bet is to read ingredient lists and choose whole foods that are minimally processed. Your goal is to balance your omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. The ideal strategy is to consume one omega 3 rich food for each omega 6 rich food in your diet.
Why should I include these fats in my diet? Studies indicate there is an indirect and direct relationship with omega 3 fats and mood-related disorders such as depression and anxiety. Research also suggests that individuals with autoimmune disorders often have a higher omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. Subsequent supplementation with omega 3 fats and a decreased ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 reduces the inflammatory response. The data collected by various research studies over the years highlights the fact that we need fat for our body to function. The key is to consume a variety of fats with an emphasis on omega 3s! Consuming these nutrients through food is a safe practice. Consult with a medical professional before incorporating nutritional supplements.