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What’s the Big Deal with Omegas?

Ahh, omegas. Sure, you have heard that they are good for you. Or that you can get a supply from fish. How about their mood enhancing benefits? But, what really is the source of all this goodness? We break it down for you here.

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the essential fatty acids that are essential to good health. The other essential fatty acid is Omega 6. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are called essential fatty acids because they are vital for good health. The body is unable to make them on its own. For this reason, omega-3s must be obtained from outside source. Omega-3 is found mainly in fresh cold-water fish and cod liver oil. Omega 9 is produced by our body and therefore not considered an essential fatty acid, but we will explain more below.

Omega 3
There are three main types of Omega 3s:

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Docosahexanoic acid (DHA)

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
EPA and DHA are the most beneficial of these fatty acids. ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA in the body, but the conversion is relatively inefficient. Examples for ALA’s are flaxseed oil and walnut oil, while EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish. Recommended daily doses for omega 3’s are: ~ 650 mg of EPA and DHA and 2.22 g of ALA – as published by the National Institutes of Health. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel are the richest sources for omega 3.

Good Omega-3 sources • ground flaxseed • oils (like flaxseed oil, linseed oil, canola oil, walnut oil, wheat germ oil and soybean oil) • green leafy vegetables (like lettuce, broccoli, kale, spinach and purslane) • legumes (like mungo, kidney, navy, pinto, lima beans, peas and split peas) • citrus fruits, melons, cherries • Also, algae supplements are a large source of omega-3’s.

Omega-3s are damaged by heat, so the oils should not be cooked with. They are also damaged by oxidation; that’s why you should store the oils in dark bottles in the refrigerator or freezer.

The absolute best source of omega-3 are flaxseeds. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed will supply the daily requirement of omega-3. Flaxseeds need to be ground for your body to be able to absorb the omega-3 from them. You can grind flaxseeds in a spice grinder. Once flaxseeds are ground, the shells don’t protect them from oxidation anymore and you will need to store them in the refrigerator or freezer, just like the oils.

Contrary to popular notion, the body does need fat. However, over consumption of foods high in saturated fats may result in the development of degenerative diseases, including coronary heart disease and even cancer. Studies have shown that without a sufficient supply of omega-3s, the body will use saturated fat to construct cell membranes, resulting in less elastic cell membranes that could be detrimental to the heart. Omega-3 fatty acids have shown great results in lowering cholesterol levels and as natural blood thinners, thereby reducing blood pressure.

In fact, many studies have shown a correlation between higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and the lowering of blood pressure level. Omega-3 fatty acids have also shown promise in the area of arthritis pain, as omega-3s also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. In several studies, users with inflammatory diseases have reported easing of joint stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and overall fatigue while taking omega-3s. These fatty acids may also reduce the risks and symptoms for other disorders including diabetes, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, some cancers, and mental decline.

Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Sources for omega 6 fatty acids are: Soy, sunflower, canola, peanut and corn oil.

Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids: They are necessary for human health but the body can’ t make them — you have to get them through food. Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), they help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system.

A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease.

The Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.

Omega-6 fatty acids may be useful for the following health conditions: Diabetic neuropathy, Rheumatoid arthritis, Allergies, Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Breast cancer, Eczema, High blood pressure (Hypertension), Menopausal symptoms, Mastalgia, Osteoporosis, Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Omega 9 Fatty Acids

Omega-9 is a family of fatty acids which includes two major fatty acids called stearic acid and oleic acid. Stearic acid is a saturated fat which can be converted to oleic acid, which is monounsaturated. Oleic acid is the most abundant fatty acid found in nature and the primary oil produced by skin glands. Omega-9 is a nonessential fatty acid, since it is produced naturally by the body. It does not need to be supplemented. Omega-9 is mainly used when there is an insufficiency of either omega-3, omega-6 or both. When the body doesn’t have enough omega-3 or omega-6, it tries to compensate by producing omega-9 fatty acids to take their place. Omega-9 derivatives aren’t as effective as omega-3 or omega-6 though and our health will eventually suffer.

Sources: http://www.veganpeace.com/; http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles

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