“Omega-3s.” You’ve heard about them in the news. You’ve seen them at the store. You’ve probably heard someone talking about cod liver oil. If you’re really lucky, your doctor may even have mentioned them to you. But what exactly are Omega-3 fatty acids?
The Bonfire Health nutrient glossary defines an essential nutrient. Certain fats are essential nutrients. A fat, chemically speaking, is made up of a long chain of carbon molecules whose distinct characteristic is that they do not mix with water. Many foods contain fats. Within these foods there are different types of fats. The fat that you find in butter or oil is different from the fat in a creamy avocado.
When we eat these fats, we use them in our bodies. Fat has many essential roles inside our bodies. This includes the construction of cell membranes and the construction of hormones, not just energy storage (also known as the roll of blubber that is hanging around most Americans’ middles). The membrane of all of the cells in your body is constructed of a layer of fatty molecules known as lipids. This membrane is called the phospholipid bilayer.
One of the types of fat that make up this membrane are Omega-3 fatty acids. The other is Omega-6 fatty acids. It is best to have an equal amount of these fatty acids in your diet, in other words, a 1:1 ratio. The types of fat that you eat affect the type of fats that are found in your cell membranes. Therefore the types of fats you eat can affect how the cells function. When you eat an imbalanced consumption of Omega-6 and Omega-3, inflammation can wreak havoc on your body and your health.
ALA, EPA and DHA
There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids that are most commonly discussed, as they are the most nutritionally important. A-Linolenic Acid (ALA) has 18 carbons. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) has 20 carbons. And docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has 22 carbons. Each of these are found in foods and need to be consumed regularly.
Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include nuts, seeds, and meat from healthy animals and fish. ALA is the easiest to obtain through diet, as is it prominent in nuts, seeds, avocados and other staples of the Bonfire Diet Style. DHA and EPA are a little bit harder to find. The most prominent sources are limited to fish or the algae that the fish eat while swimming around in the ocean. Three to four servings of fish (such as salmon, anchovies, sardines, and herring) per week usually does the trick, provided you aren’t overeating Omega-6 fatty acids.
Too Much Omega-6
Most Standard American Diets are extremely high in Omega-6 fatty acids - anywhere from 10-20:1 as compared to Omega-3s. This is integral in the onset of chronic diseases related to inflammation. If you are regularly consuming bread, pasta or cereals, which are high in Omega-6 fatty acids, then you are most likely not at a 1:1 ratio. We’ll say it again: Remove these foods from your diet.
Too Little Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning that we need to consume them for life. If we do not eat enough of them, we will exhibit Omega-3 deficiencies. The most common Omega-3 deficiencies are skin problems, depression, poor vision, hyperactivity, increased susceptibility to infection, and inflammatory diseases. There is some evidence that a lack of Omega-3 in utero can cause developmental problems in infants that may lead to ADHD and other behavioral problems. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most widely-research nutritional supplements. They reduce the risk of heart disease and emotional disorders, and they even improve your skin and nails. Making sure you are getting enough Omega-3s is critical!
One Surefire Solution
The best way to ensure you are getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids is to take a high quality fish oil supplement every day. Make sure it includes DHA and EPA fatty acids. Make sure it is IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) certified, guaranteeing that there are no harmful toxins in the product that the fish may have bio-accumulated over time. This is a no brainer! Get yourself some Omega-3!!