Are you getting enough omega-3?
Think about what you’ve eaten over the last week? It’s probably been heavy in processed foods and hidden seed oils; while light in fresh seafood. It is likely that your diet, like most Westerners, entails much higher amounts of omega-6 than omega-3. Too much omega-6 can raise your blood pressure, lead to blood clots, and cause chronic inflammation.
While omega-6 and omega-3's are both essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, they have very different effects on our bodies. However, both are necessary for the body to work efficiently. So the key is finding the proper balance of the two within your diet.
Omega-6 vs omega-3
Omega-6 and omega-3 are essentially opposites- omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 is anti-inflammatory. But both are necessary. Inflammation has a very bad reputation, but it’s actually vital in protecting your body from infection and injury. The problem arises when there is chronic or excessive inflammation in your body, which is when it causes severe damage and can contribute to disease. To find the perfect balance, you must consume equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3.
Problems with the Western Diet
Unfortunately, our body has not yet caught up with the dietary trends around us. Our body is evolutionarily equipped to handle a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3. The Western Diet entails a ratio of 16:1, which is why so many people today have problems with inflammation.
This exponential rise in omega-6s in our diets largely stems from the dramatic increase in the consumption of processed seed and vegetable oils. Soybean oil, which contains the most omega-6 of any processed oil, has increased in consumption from 0-24 pounds per person per year in the last century. In the last 50 years, omega-6 amounts in our body fat stores have increased by over 200%.
To decrease your omega-6 intake, the most important thing you can do is avoid processed seed and vegetable oils and processed foods that contain them. You can also substitute oils with high levels for ones with lower amounts.
Oils with the highest omega-6 levels:
Oils with the lowest omega-6 levels:
Benefits of Omega-3s
Because we are constantly overloading our bodies with the inflammatory omega-6, the health benefits of increasing your omega-3 intake are immense. These benefits of omega-3 include:
Reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome (central obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance)
Foods with omega-3s
There are certain foods you can increase consumption of in order to raise your omega-3 levels. These foods include:
Animal meat- Meat is among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. But, it is important to note that omega-3 levels are higher in grass-fed med. This is due to the diet of many unpasteurized animals, they are fed grain-based feed that contains soy and corn which are high in omega-6. Leaner cuts of meat will also include fewer omega-6s.
Pastured eggs- Similar to animal meat, chickens who were not pasture-raised will produce eggs with fewer omega-3s. Look for pasture raised chickens when purchasing eggs. These are best found at your local farmer's market.
Seafood- Seafood is the best way to increase your omega-3 intake. It is recommended to eat seafood every other day to keep your omega levels balanced. Seafood highest in Omega3's are the SMASH fish: sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring. These are also the fish lowest in mercury.
Fish oil supplements are also a very popular method of increasing your omega-3 levels. But you must be very careful in what kind of fish oil you are taking.
Oxidized fish oil:
When your fish oil supplement smells fishy, unfortunately, it has oxidized and gone rancid. The chemical structure of omega-3 makes them highly prone to oxidization, when omega-3s oxidize, the chemical structure changes and the molecules break down into lipid peroxides- which give off the smell and taste of spoiled fish. Importantly, the health effects of consuming oxidized fish oil supplements are not yet known. However, in animal studies, consuming rancid oil has been linked to organ damage. Further research performed on fatty acids, found that when they are oxidized, they have a pro-inflammatory effect and may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your supplement from oxidation, like reducing exposure to oxygen, heat, and light. Moreover, there are ways you can ensure a fresh product:
Evaluate your current supplement- if it takes or smells fishy, it’s oxidized and rancid.
Beware of labels that have a 2-3 year expiration date, these products will have likely been sitting on the shelf for months.
Avoid purchasing fish oil supplements from Amazon, as you have no way of knowing the age of the product.
Purchase smaller containers of fish oil supplements. The longer you store your supplements, the greater the likelihood of oxidation.
Buy fish oil supplements you can store in the fridge or freezer, low temperatures slow the oxidation process.
Throw away old fish oil supplements.