What’s the deal with Omega’s?

You may have heard or read buzz words about Omega 3 fatty acids, or other Omega fats. Here, I attempt to explain what that means, why its important, and how to get more of the good stuff and less of the bad. This can also be important information if you do take a fish oil supplement to understand what you are taking, why, and whether you have chosen a good option.

Fats are essential to a good diet. There are many theories about the percentage of calories one should get form fat as compared to carbohydrates and proteins. I am not going to discuss those theories here, except to say that I personally believe that it is very person-dependent. But what’s not person-dependent is the fact that we all need some fat in our diet, and that the type of fat matters a LOT. There are healthy fats, very unhealthy fats, and some fats to avoid when possible, but that are okay occasionally.

This will be the first post in a series covering different types of fats and how you can incorporate the healthy types into your diet.

First, why is fat essential?

  • Helps to support proper brain development (60% of our brains are fat)
  • Essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Essential for the synthesis of some hormones
  • Provides essential cushioning and insulation to internal organs
  • Assists in regulation of inflammation and metabolism

Polyunsaturated Fat

There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: Omega 3s and Omega 6s. These are essential to our diet and we cannot make them (ie we must consume them from specific foods). Omega 6 fatty acids can be found in safflower oil, corn oil, some nuts and seeds, and soy (to name a few). Omega 3 fatty acids are broken down into 3 main types: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). EPA & DHA are found in salmon, mackerel, and tuna fish (again, a partial list). ALA is found in walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and eggs if the chicken have been fed a diet high in omega 3 fatty acids (partial list).

Both types of fats are essential to our diet; however the ratio between them is important, and the standard american diet is overloaded with Omega 6 fats and fewer Omega 3 fats. Thus, if you focus on adding in more of the Omega 3 fatty acids to your diet, you will be doing yourself a favor. By moving toward unprocessed foods you will be getting fewer Omega 6 fatty acids without thinking about it.

I should also mention that there are Omega 9 fatty acids that can also be beneficial. These are found in many of the same foods as the other Omega fats, and our body doesn’t need to get Omega 9s from specific food sources. Thus, possibly good to know about, but not something you need to be really concerned about for a healthy diet.

Tips for adding omega 3s into your diet:

  • Eat small fish listed above. A good resource to assist you in purchasing sustainable seafood is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program
  • Eat a variety of nuts and seeds. Flax seeds can be purchased ground and added to cereals, smoothies, and in backing recipes. Chia seeds can also be added to smoothies and baked goods, or it can make a good cereal on its own (google chia seed pudding to find recipes; or a good general rule of thumb is 2 tbsp chia seeds to 3/4 cup liquid – such as almond milk and/or coffee, along with other flavor such as frozen berries, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, peanut or almond butter, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg. Stir ingredients in a container and let sit at least 3 hours or overnight).
  • Some other good plan sources to incorporate into your diet include spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and butternut squash.
  • Fish oil supplements are widely recommended by medical professionals that I trust. The dosage recommended varies, but here are some good resources for you to review:
    • Dr. Weil’s recommendation (middle of the post)
    • Dr. Hyman recommends: 1,000 to 2,000 mg of omega-3 fats (should contain a ratio of approximately 300/200 mg of EPA/ DHA), twice a day, once with breakfast and once with dinner
    • And you can see the brands (and doses) that Dr. Rhonda Patrick (PhD) uses here. She doesn’t get any kick back from supplement companies and she does her research.
  • And, if you want to geek out on a more in depth look at Omega 3, check this article out.

How do you feel about adding these healthy fats into your diet? Do you still hold onto the widespread myth that eating fat leads to gaining fat? Are these foods foreign? Or do you have good tips to share?

Sources (in addition to IIN course materials): Hyman, Mark, M.D. Food, What the heck should I eat? New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018.

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