Omega 3 Fatty acids are essential for our health, however, we must rely on getting them from food as our bodies are unable to synthesise them.
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the parent omega 3 fatty acid which comes from plant sources such as flaxseeds, chia and walnuts. It can be converted in the body into eicopentaenoic
acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) but this process is very limited.
Mostly, EPA and DHA are found in marine sources such as fish and seafood. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids used to be 1:1, however, as a society, we have started to adopt a westernised diet, full of processed and convenience foods so the ratio has now become more like 15:1.
This is a problem as omega 6 fatty acids have been shown to be pro-inflammatory
whereas omega 3 are anti-inflammatory.
Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have numerous positive effects on health such as reducing the risk of heart disease, improving inflammation and our immune system,
benefiting brain and mental health, and reducing cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.
So, how can we increase the amount of omega 3s we are consuming?
1. Increase the consumption of fish such as salmon, anchovies, blue cod, sardines, and oysters.
2. Increase consumption of flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
3. Decrease the amount of Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids compete with each other to use the same conversion pathway therefore increased levels of omega 6 will reduce the amount of ALA being converted to EPA and DHA). Omega 6 rich foods are seed and vegetable oils such as sunflower and soybean oils.
4. If you don’t eat much fish or seafood, fish oil tablets are an option. Cod Liver Oil contains Omega 3 Fatty acids as well as Vitamin D and Vitamin A. Aim to have two marine sources a week and that will go a long way to improving our omega 3 to omega 6 ratio. Just remember to choose sustainable sources.
By Kim Jones, Nutritionist, Total Nutrition and Health
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