The reason Omega-3 fatty acids are all the buzz these days is because they help the body control total body inflammation. By eating foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids or taking fish oil supplements, you are helping to decrease inflammation in vascular, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems. When eating foods high in Omega-6 fatty acids, you are increasing inflammation in those same systems. If we really pay attention to how food makes us feel, we can often notice whether or not they are inflammatory!
For instance, low cost vegetable oils are usually very high in Omega-6’s and very low in Omega-3’s. After consuming food cooked in these low cost oils I usually have a “swollen” feel. In contrast, Salmon has high Omega-3’s and low Omega-6’s. After eating Salmon I always feel great and miss the after dinner food coma! The following tips are simple ways to increase our Omega-3’s and decrease our Omega-6’s. For those that suffer from any kind of autoimmune disease, these guidelines become even more important!
Health benefits assigned to Omega-3 fatty acids are: decreased risk of stroke, heart disease, and lower cholesterol. Studies also show promising results with reducing cancer, depression, ADHD, and myofascial syndromes like fibromyalgia.
Cut Your Omega-6
- Change your cooking oil. This should be an obvious first step to take; vegetable oils that contain obscene amounts of Omega-6 and minuscule levels of Omega-3 fatty acids should be avoided. The top offenders are grape seed, cottonseed, safflower, corn, and sunflower oils. Alternatives to consider are olive, macadamia, avocado, and coconut oils. Check out this cooking oil buying guide to learn how to choose the appropriate cooking oil.
- Limit processed foods. This is perhaps one of the best, but admittedly drastic ways to cut Omega-6 fats. The fact remains that most processed food manufacturers use cheap vegetable oils to mass produce their products. If you choose whole over processed foods, you can probably slash a third or more of Omega-6 fats from your diet. Take heart if this sounds too ‘revolutionary’ as there are other ways to cut down Omega-6 fats from your diet.
- Scrutinize food labels like a hawk. This is a life-saving habit everyone should cultivate. Not only to check the fat content in products that you buy, but also for other vital information like sodium, protein and ingredients used. This will help prevent you from being tricked by clever but often misleading marketing campaigns.
As far as Omega-6 fats are concerned, avoid or limit foods that use high amounts of the vegetable oils mentioned in point 1.
Tip: There is a free computer program called Keep It Managed Version 2 for both PC and Mac that gives you the Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acid contents of over 9,000 food types. Download it if you are concerned about your Omega fats intake.
- Be mindful of dressings, margarine, mayonnaise and spreads. Omega-6 fats can be hiding in these soybean or vegetable oil-derived concoctions! Look for healthier alternatives made with olive or macadamia oil.
- Avoid deep fried foods. Not only are they coated with a thick layer of Omega-6 fats, the high temperature cooking process also introduces compounds that are known to cause cancer.
Boost Your Omega-3
- Be a discerning cat. Contrary to common belief, to increase your Omega-3 fats intake you don’t need to eat fish every day. Eating two portions of fish per week, including one portion of oily fish, is enough to boost the Omega-3’s in your blood. If you eat seafood other than fish, you may need more portions per week (as they typically have lower Omega-3 levels).
As every sea on this planet has been tainted with chemicals, it is critical to carefully choose your seafood to make sure you are not ingesting mercury and dioxins along with Omega-3’s. A few good choices are wild salmon, sardines, and anchovies. Check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s website for a useful list of eco-friendly and safe seafood to eat.
- Seek out EPA and DHA fortified foods. We are seeing more products that are enriched with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for many types of consumers, including vegetarians.
Make sure that the products you choose are low in Omega-6 fats. It won’t do any good to increase your Omega-6 levels further even though you may be getting more long-chain Omega-3 fats. Don’t assume that the Omega-3 stamp on the package refers to EPA and DHA; it might only be ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Make sure you see the words EPA and/or DHA clearly printed before buying.
- Don’t dismiss ALA food sources. Alpha-linolenic acid is usually found in plants. Although our bodies are not totally efficient at converting ALA to EPA and DHA, that does not mean we should eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Plants such as flaxseeds and dark leafy green vegetables provide us with more than ALA. They are also important sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants that strengthen and protect our health.
- Buy free-range or pasture fed meats. As opposed to animals that are grain-fed, free-range or pasture-fed meats have comparatively higher amounts of EPA and DHA. However, they are not likely to beat fish anytime soon.
- Pop EPA & DHA supplements. You should try to meet all your Omega-3 requirements through your diet. If you are a vegetarian, not a fan of seafood, or are suffering from a health condition that may benefit from higher doses of Omega-3’s, taking supplements is an option to consider (with your physician’s blessing). Young children who are fussy eaters may also benefit from supplementation.
There are a number of EPA and DHA supplements available. The most popular and most extensively researched are Omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil. There are also plant-based EPA and DHA supplements that are extracted from algae. Eastgate Chiropractic carries DC Labs Omega-3 supplements. Stop by the office to stock up today!
Note: If you are planning to take EPA/DHA supplements, make sure you are not taking any medications or supplements that may have side effects intensified by Omega-3 fats (such as blood thinner and diabetic drugs). When in doubt, consult a trained health care practitioner.
By Dr. Julie Moore-Fisher