Friday, 9 January 2009

Bring Omega 3s back into your diet

Whilst our government loiters over this issue, I thought it best to take matters into my own hands and offer some straightforward guidelines.

Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. As I've previously blogged here, green plants (vegetables) are full of Alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA), the parent Omega 3 fatty acid. All fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants which protect fats against oxidation. So to bulk up on ALA by eating lots of vegetables – and enjoy them. There are several species of seaweeds that also have the ability to produce DHA and EPA which can serve as an excellent addition.

Consume oils with a healthy balance of Omega 3 & Omega 6. Always avoid oils in which Linoleic acid vastly overshadows Alpha-Linolenic Acid. These include sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, corn and peanut oils. Consume more linseed, canola and walnut oils. Even a little butter, which contains huge quantities of saturated fats and small quantities of polyunsaturated fats, is fine. This is simply because the ratio of omega 6 to Omega 3 is wholesome. Olive oil is another fantastic alternative, though it too has only small amounts of ALA. But its amounts of Linoleic acid are also small, and it's packed with antioxidants.

Eat a variety of fish. Include fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel as well as lean fish such as cod, trout and halibut in your diet. Because they live in water and require more flexibility in their cell membranes than do land animals, they are rich sources of Omega 3s. A point to note is that keeping your choice of fish diverse will help prevent over fishing and protect against toxins that tend to accumulate in certain types e.g. Mercury in tuna.

Eat Omega 3 enriched eggs. Most supermarkets carry these - Look for the words Omega 3 or DHA on the carton. These types of eggs are laid by hens fed a diet rich in linseed, fish/algae meal and other greens. Omega 3 eggs are one of the easiest ways to add Omega 3s to our Western diet. They are easy to produce by poultry farms thus cheaper than most other high Omega 3 foods. If the hens are fed something other than fish meal, they are likely to be free of the contaminants I mentioned earlier too. The Omega 3 is beneficial to them as they suffer fewer illnesses and have far better immune systems. Basically a healthy hen gives you a healthy egg.

Unfortunately eggs are an icon of the anti-cholesterol brigade and I'm liable to have one thrown at me by an advocate. But before you do please have a quick read of Nigel Kinbrum's article here. Eggs are the first food given up by people worried about serum cholesterol and thus have taken the greatest beating of any food in regard to cholesterol. A point to note here is that the Omega 3 is concentrated in the yolks of eggs. This is for the same reason they are concentrated in breast milk and placental blood – to support the development (especially brain development) of the next generation. In this case it's obviously a chicken and not a human.

Try to include Omega 3s in every meal. Doing so will allow Alpha-Linolenic acid to exert its natural competitive edge over Linolenic acid. The Omega 3s can come from fish, Omega 3 enriched eggs, greens and of course linseeds. Other convenient sources are from nuts e.g. walnuts, chestnuts. Add your Omega 3 rich foods to salads, sauces, yoghurts, cheeses and so on. The nuts can be eaten as snacks with dried fruit and dark chocolate.

Use supplements cautiously. If you do decide to take Omega 3 supplementation, avoid those that contain all the essential fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are essential of course but chances are you are getting far more than you need anyway so why add more? Supplements (and foods for that matter) that contain phrases like complete omegas, total EFAs, omega balance, ultimate omegas should be avoided as they will certainly contain Omega 6s. If you take fish oils, it's important to look for those that are molecularly distilled as these will be free of metals and other toxins that can accumulate in fish as I mentioned earlier. Also take fish oil over cod liver oil as that contains Vitamin A which can be harmful in large quantities.

Keep linseed and fish oils in a cool dark place. Throw out any that smells bad. Taking rancid (oxidised) oil is worse than taking no oil at all. Those taking large amounts of linseed or linseed oils should further supplement with vitamin B6 since linseed is known to interfere with this vitamin in the body.

Choose free range meat. Because these animals have had to wander around in search of food, they have naturally high muscle and less fat than confined, grain fed animals. And what fat they do have is much lower in saturated fat and richer in polyunsaturated fat – especially Omega 3s. They will have fed on a diet that nature intended them to feed on.

Avoid hydrogenated oils. Trans fats compete with normal cis fats for positions in cell membranes and enzymes. Avoiding these foods is really easy to do, simply look on the ingredients list. The same can't be said for foods consumed in restaurants. Choose foods that are freshly prepared and give those that are fried or packaged a miss.