BY DODI KINGSFIELD, TECHNICAL SERVICES SUPERVISOR, FREELANCE WRITER & AUTHOR, FORESTVILLE
It’s really omega-3, -6 and -9, not -1, -2, -3 and -4. And I’m not talking about stars. The omegas I’m referring to are actually long chain fatty acids found in nature that are essential for healthy living. Omega-9 is the only omega naturally produced by the body. Omega-3s and –6s must be provided by the diet. That is why omegas are one of the latest trends in functional foods and dietary supplements, designed to provide you and your family important nutrients to benefit your health if you are not already eating high omega fat foods in your diet.
But isn’t fat in your diet bad for you? Not really, it depends more on what kinds of fats you eat than how much. Fats are still high in calories, so they must be used or eaten in moderation. By eliminating or reducing saturated fats and trans fats from the diet and replacing them with unsaturated fats full of omega-3, -6 and -9 nutrients, you make a more significant impact on your health than by reducing calories from unhealthy fats.
What is the difference between the three omegas that makes it necessary to include each one in our family’s nutrition plan? Nothing more than a place where the double bond occurs on a carbon chain (that’s the long chain of the fatty acid). Omega-3 has the bond at the third carbon, omega-6 is at the sixth, and omega-9 at the ninth. But that’s not the most significant difference. More significant is the source of the omega nutrients and the importance of including plant and protein (fish and animal) sources of omegas in the diet to get the maximum health rewards.
Omega-3s and –6s are essential fatty acids because they are not created by the body and must be eaten. ALA, alpha-linolenic acid, is an essential omega-3 only found in plant sources such as vegetable oils, flaxseed, soybeans, walnuts and pecans, broccoli and leafy greens. EPA, eicosapentanoic acid, and DHA, docosohexaenoic acid, are two other essential omega-3s that are commonly found in fish such as salmon, tuna, trout and cod or added to functional foods as an ingredient manufactured from algae, which removes any fish allergen concerns. In order to eat sources of omega-6, turn to nuts, seeds and oils for LA, linoleic acid, and proteins like eggs, meat and peanuts for AA, arachidonic acid.
Replacing vegetable oil or lard in the pantry with olive, canola, peanut or safflower oil is one dietary change that provides a source of all three essential omegas. No other naturally occurring foods contain omega-9, which is normally generated by the body making it a non-essential fatty acid.
To get the most benefit from eating omegas, careful balance of omega-3s and omega-6s is necessary. Excessive amounts of the wrong omega can actually cancel each other out nutritionally or even cause further harm. The perfect ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is 3:1, which means eat three times more omega-6 than omega-3. This makes a handful of mixed nuts a perfect omega punch since each type of nut has different types of omega nutrients.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to eat too many nuts and before you know it, your new healthy habits result in a bigger belt size. So how do you know just how many fats you can or can’t eat before you are doing more harm than good? Adults and kids each have different requirements. A good rule of thumb is no more than 20% of your daily calories should be fats if an adult and kids require more like 35% of the daily calories as fat. Of the fats you need each day, try to make 90% or more of your fat intake come from unsaturated fat sources like the omega rich foods identified above.
Unfortunately, omega source foods are also a source of many common food allergies: fish, dairy, nuts and eggs. This makes creating an omega rich diet for you and your family’s health an incredible challenge if you have to deal with allergies. The good news is that the food industry is responding by providing omega enhanced food products that are allergen free, yet contain healthy omega nutrients derived from plant sources like algae or refined fish proteins that remove the allergen material.
Fish can be a source of toxic contaminants like mercury and PCBs, so it’s important not to forget when serving omega rich fish to your family. If you are eating fish you caught yourself, eat only the recommended amount per week as advised by the Game Commission or Natural Resources office for Great Lakes and other waterways. Children or pregnant women should not eat some fish species from certain sources at all. Eat fish no more than two meals a week and don’t serve shark meat or eat tuna steak more than once a week.
The effects of making these simple changes to your family’s diet to ensure a daily dose of omega nutrients is almost like quitting smoking. It has a positive effect that increases exponentially over time. With every day, more and more research becomes available demonstrating how important omega nutrients are to you and your family’s long term health plan. Studies show that omega-3s have an effect on blood health, genetic effects on developing fetuses, decreases risk of heart disease and stroke, has auto-immune disease affects, reduces brain disorder symptoms and even reduces the risk of some cancers. So do yourself and your family a favor and starting eating your omegas today. Omega-3, -6, -9…
Dodi Kingsfield, Technical Services Supervisor, Freelance Writer and Author. Dodi is employed as a Technical Supervisor for a large food manufacturer in Dunkirk, writes childrens and young adult books and does freelance writing for the web and magazines. Married for more than 20 years and a full-time mother of five, Dodi enjoys yoga, organic gardening and telling tall tales. She can be reached through her e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org.