Everything About Omegas
The most talked about dietary omega is probably omega-3. This substance is a polyunsaturated fat, a kind of essential good fat that our bodies can't produce on their own. It comes in three major types, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
ALA is the least important, since most of the ALA we consume is simply converted to energy, but it can occasionally be used by the body to make the other two. The more significant EPA is most often used in the body as a signaling molecule that reduces inflammation. DHA, on the other hand, most often serves as a crucial structural component of cell membranes, particularly in the cells of the brain and eyes.
Both of these fatty acids are critical to our brain health, preserving cell membrane health and facilitating communication between brain cells. Mothers who consume more omega-3 fatty acids while pregnant, especially more DHA, have babies with higher intelligence and a decreased risk of developmental delays and behavior problems. Conversely, lower levels of DHA in the blood have been associated with smaller brain size and accelerated brain aging.
Omega-3 has also been tentatively shown to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and depression, as well as to decrease the frequency and severity of episodes of altered mood and psychosis in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They've even been shown to combat the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
The benefits of omega-3 go far beyond your brain, though. Adequate omega-3 levels can reduce the risk of some type of cancers, fatty liver, asthma, and eye diseases. They have also been shown to have positive effects on cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and several other risk factors for heart disease.
Finally, omega-3 may also improve the symptoms of autoimmune diseases, arthritis, and other illnesses with an inflammatory component. One study found that an omega-3 supplement was actually more effective than ibuprofen at treating menstrual pain!
Of course, omega-3 still isn't a cure all, and not all studies agree on every potential benefit. But as with most things, moderation is the rule of thumb; even omega-3 can be harmful in large amounts, especially because of its blood thinning effect. Too much omega-3 has also been associated with insomnia, poor digestion, low blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Additionally, some omega-3 supplements contain vitamin A as well, a substance which can likewise be harmful if it builds up in the body.
Experts recommend getting a minimum of 250–500 mg EPA and DHA combined each day, with an additional 200 mg recommended for pregnant women. The American Heart Association also recommends consuming at least 2 servings of fatty fish a week, since the best sources of dietary omega-3 are seafood.
White fish like halibut, trout and cod are the best options for phase 1, and in phase 3 you can add salmon, tuna, mackerel, oysters, sardines, and anchovies. If you just can't stomach seafood, it may be worth it to look into a supplement.
DHA in particular can also be found in significant amounts in dairy, eggs (especially pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs), and in the meat of grass-fed animals. Finally, small amounts of omega-3 can also be found in certain vegetables, including spinach, kale, lettuce, fresh basil, and dried tarragon.
It's also important to consider your dietary levels of omega-3 in relations to your level of omega-6, since omega-6 fatty acids encourage the inflammation that omega-3 works to fight. Both are necessary for proper health, but since a typical American diet contains much more of omega-6, the balance between them often becomes skewed.
The primary cause of this dietary imbalance is the seed and vegetable oils present in many processed foods. Sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils contain omega-6 in the highest amounts. On the other hand, Olive oil and butter, both allowed in phase 3, are relatively low in omega-6 and higher in omega-3.
High omega-6 levels have been strongly associated with heart disease, and lower morbidity and mortality rates from various diseases have been found in countries where more omega-3 than omega-6 is consumed.
However, not every omega-6 acid has a negative affect. Some specific omega-6 acids, like conjugated linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid, have been shown to have particular health benefits.
Finally, you may also hear about omega-9. Unlike omega-6 and 3, omega-9 isn't "essential" since your body can make its own. However, increased dietary omega-9 has been found to reduce triglycerides and cholesterol in diabetes patients and to improve insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation in mice. 123-friendly sources include olive oil and avocados.