Have you taken notice how many foods on grocery store shelves are touting their omega 3 content lately? Is it just some new fad? Is it an advertising gimmick? Or have I been missing out on an important practice for healthy living? With these questions in mind, I set out on a quest to see what I could learn about the fatty acids.
While neither the word “fatty” nor the word “acid” conjures up images of good health, it turns out that our bodies need omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids in order to survive. They are necessary to maintain healthy cell membranes and to build many important molecules in the body. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions”. While our bodies are capable of producing omega 9 fatty acids, we must get omega 3 and 6, referred to as “essential fats”, from the foods we eat.
So, if our bodies need both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, then why aren’t advertisers bragging about the omega 6 content in their packaged foods? The reason why the omega 3s are being pushed on the grocery store shelves, and not the omega 6’s is because the North American diet is already saturated with omega 6’s whereas most people are not consuming enough of the omega 3’s. The recommended ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 is 1:2 to 1:4. So for every unit of omega 3 you consume, you should consume about two to four units of omega 6. In North America however we consume an estimated ratio of 1:20. In other words, most people are consuming about ten times the amount of omega 6 fatty acids than they actually need! To make matters worse, while omega 3s have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which is important for disease prevention, too much omega 6 can have the opposite effect, making you more susceptible to diseases such as:
- cardiovascular disease
- type 2 diabetes
- metabolic syndrome
- irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
- macular degeneration
- rheumatoid arthritis
- psychiatric disorders
- autoimmune diseases
So, the bottom line is this: most of us need to focus on increasing the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in our diet, and reducing the amount of omega 6.
Foods that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids include:
-spinach and other green leafy vegetables
-and oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel.
Foods that are high in omega 6 include:
-corn and corn products (corn oil, corn chips, etc.)
My favorite way to get my daily intake of heart healthy omega 3’s is by eating chia seeds. Just one tablespoon full of chia seeds has the omega 3 equivalent of 5 fish oil capsules! I like to throw a spoonful into my morning smoothie, but you can also add them to your cereal, pancakes, or muffins. Be creative. You can easily hide them in your children’s (or your husband’s) favorite foods.
If you are a fish lover, the recipe below is a great way to increase your omega 3’s, and as an added bonus, the sweet potato in this recipe has a disease preventing anti-inflammatory effect on the body AND is packed full of Vitamin C! Did I mention they are also delicious?
2 tins wild salmon (215 g)
1 large sweet potato
2 large white potatoes
1 medium onion, finely diced
¼ cup flour
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons dried tarragon
1-2 teaspoons each of salt and pepper
1 cup Panko crumbs
Olive oil or canola oil for frying
Drain and mash the salmon with a fork. Boil sweet and white potatoes and mash. Fry onions until cooked. Combine potatoes with onions and salmon. Add egg, flour, tarragon, salt and pepper. Let cool. Form into cakes and roll in panko crumbs to coat the cakes. Fry on medium high heat to brown on both sides. Note: Tarragon is a little expensive to buy, but it is what gives these cakes the WOW factor!
To learn more about eating for disease prevention, check out our book, 100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It!