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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • September 2018
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Why you need omega fats in your diet

Most people have been trained to avoid fats to get or to stay healthy; however, our bodies need all kinds of fats for proper functioning. In fact, there are “essential” fats that the body is unable to produce, so we need to obtain them through our diets!

The essential fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3) and linoleic acid (an omega-6). Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids are a very important part of good health. They are critical for survival and have important body functions, including the support of proper cell signaling, strong immunity, brain and mood health, and decreased inflammation.

Fish, other seafood like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring; nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, chia, flax and hemp; green leafy vegetables; and plant oils like soybean, extra-virgin olive, flaxseed and canola are sources of essential fatty acids, with varying levels on the spectrum.

A closer look at omega-3s

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — both mainly found in fish — and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — mainly found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and leafy vegetables. These polyunsaturated fats work in the body to support many body functions.

Harvard Chan School of Public Health describes their importance this way: Omega-3 fatty acids are “an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function. Likely due to these effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.”

Unfortunately, the majority of us are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Deficiencies may manifest as dry mouth, brittle fingernails, dandruff, dry skin, excessive thirst, scaly skin, cracked fingertips, brittle hair, fatigue, stiff joints, dry eyes and more. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two 3.5-ounce servings, cooked) a week.

Omega-6s up close

There is one main type of omega-6 fatty acid: linoleic acid. This polyunsaturated essential fatty acid is mainly used for energy. It also works to support a variety of physiologic functions in the body, including healthy brain function, hair and skin growth, and cell division, repair and growth.

Mayo Clinic describes their importance this way: “When eaten in moderation and in place of the saturated fats found in meats and dairy products, omega-6 fatty acids can be good for your heart.” This may be tied to their positive effects on cholesterol levels.

While this fat is vital for many body functions, we may need to consider limiting our intake of these, in some cases. At issue is the standard American diet, which tends to contain too many omega-6 fatty acids thanks to industrially processed vegetable oils (canola, corn, safflower, soybean and sunflower) as well as things like fried foods, mayonnaise, cereals and whole-grain breads. This phenomenon has resulted in our intakes of omega-6s to increase and omega-3s to decrease over the last decades.

The excess of omega-6 fats — estimated to be from 10:1 to 20:1 with the average industrialized diet — seems to interfere with the health benefits of omega-3 fats, possibly because they compete for the same enzymes in the body. The imbalance appears to shift the physiological state in our tissues that results in chronic inflammatory diseases. It is believed that a proper balance of 1:1 should be maintained for optimal health.

Increasing omega-3 consumption

It is quite clear that the majority of us need to include more omega-3-rich foods in our diets. Consider eating more of these fatty marine foods: salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, anchovies, halibut, mussels, sardines, oysters, albacore tuna, scallops and crab.

If these options don’t appeal to you, or you have concerns about the impacts of synthetic toxins, plastic particles and other pollution on our oceans (farmed seafood lacks the high omega-3 content of its wild counterparts), you may benefit from an omega-3 supplement. Purification and distillation processes make it possible for reputable brands to provide clean, fresh, non-fishy-tasting oils with solid doses of DHA and EPA. These products have become more popular as more medical doctors are acknowledging the health benefits of omega-3s. 

Reference: “What Should You Eat?”

Theresa Groskopp, CN

Theresa Groskopp, a licensed certified nutritionist, is the founder and president of Natural Healthy Concepts, which has a retail location at 310 N. Westhill Blvd. in Appleton. She firmly believes that the foundation of health and wellness lies in proper nutrition. To supplement proper nutrition, Natural Healthy Concepts carries a wide variety of pharmaceutical grade supplements, homeopathic remedies and herbs — all of which are derived from the highest quality ingredients. The store also offers a nice selection of natural health products, including nontoxic sunscreens!

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