Many people take Fish Oil supplements to boost their Omega-3 intake these days when only a few years ago nobody gave these Essential Fatty Acids very much attention at all.
Scientists have been aware of the benefits to health of omega-3 fatty acids for about sixty years, particularly for their role in helping clear up skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema. For about thirty years they have been thought to be effective aids to lowering cardiovascular risk and heart attack. But over the last few years there has been an explosion in public awareness of the many diseases that have a link to inadequate amounts omega-3 in the diet, and with this awareness has come the widespread use of supplements to address deficiency related health problems.
If you don’t know the difference between omega-3 and omega-6 you are not alone as most other people don’t either. Our diet now contains many foods high in omega-6 such as breads, biscuits and even meat fed on grains. While we need more omega-6 than omega-3, the ratio being 4:1, the ratio in our diets is actually closer to 10 – 20:1 and so we are getting far more omega-6 than we need at the expense of sufficient omega-3. The omega-6 is often from a poor, highly processed form of the food source. The effect of this unbalance is to cause many other health problems.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are both polyunsaturated fatty acids that we need to add to our diets because our bodies cannot synthesise them. Omega-6 is needed in greater quantities but is also more easily obtained as it occurs in many of the foods that are eaten in large quantities in the western diet. Whilst we need much less omega-3 the amount that most Australians consume falls very far short of their daily requirements.
What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
Simply put they are EPA, DHA, GLA, and OA.
- EPA ( eicosapentaenoic acid) is great for a healthy heart and body
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for healthy mood, mind and memory
- GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) for healthy skin, hair and hormones
- OA (oleic acid) for healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
EPA and DHA occur together in nature and so should always be taken together, along with OA (which is omega-9).
GLA is omega-6 and works well in combination with the other nutrients but as we receive more than adequate quantities in the western diet we do not need to supplement GLA.
Deficiency of DHA and EPA has been shown to be linked to many different health issues and the list seems to keep growing. Just a few conditions that indicate a need for more high omega-3 foods in your diet are:
- cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- dry and itchy skin
- brittle hair and nails
- difficult concentration
- joint pain
But there are many more.
Omega 3 Food Sources
Before you consider taking an omega-3 supplement you really need to consider whether it is possible to meet your omega-3 requirements from food sources, as research has shown that omega-3 may be better absorbed from foods than it is from supplements, even cod liver oil.
The very best food sources for omega-3 are cold-water oily fish. A few of the best are herrings, sardines and anchovies or in the larger fish, trout, blue mackerel, gemfish, salmon and blue-eye trevalla. A word of warning about salmon – all salmon grown in Australia is farmed, which means it is grown in dense-packed pens near ocean shores, fed fish meal that can be polluted with toxic chemicals, awash in excrement that then gets flushed out to sea and infused with antibiotics to combat unsanitary conditions – really salmon can be viewed as the “battery hen” of the sea.
Good quality salmon will be wild caught and in Australia is unfortunately found only in tins from Canada or Alaska. Opt for imported wild-caught salmon if you can get it.
DHA & EPA
The two important components of omega-3 are DHA and EPA. There is overwhelming evidence that both are of great benefit.
Omega-3 is also available from sources other than fish (vegetarian) such as walnuts, flax, chia and pumpkin seed oils, soy products and dark green leafy vegetables. But these sources contain Alpha- Linolenic Acid (ALA) rather than DHA or EPA. This needs to be converted in the body and in many, many people, especially the elderly, this conversion is very inefficient and so these are not a reliable source.
But omega-3 from vegetarian sources is a better option than no omega-3 at all.
Omega-3 Daily Requrements
For the recommended requirements of omega-3 for Australian adults look here although be aware that stress or disease will modify your needs.
Fish Oil Supplements
If you do choose fish oil supplements there are a number of important things to consider about the particular omega-3 supplement you are considering before you start taking it.
Here are a few guidelines that may help:
- When choosing fish oil supplements be very careful of the quality. You get what you pay for. Many fish oil supplements are poor quality and capsules can contain rancid oil. Not only will this not help your health, it can actually make it worse, because rancid oil forms free radicals which cause inflammation that leads to disease.
- Many fish oil supplements are made from farmed fish (see the problems associated with this above)
- Check the levels of DHA and EPA as these will vary with each product and get one which has 2-3 times more DHA than EPA. It is difficult for the body to convert EPA to DHA.
- Taking just one or two capsules each day is unlikely to supply you with enough of the omega-3 you need and you will most likely need many more than this. Taking the supplement in a liquid form is a better way to get an adequate amount.
- Cod Liver Oil is a good way to get the omega-3 EFA’s you need as well as Vitamin D and Vitamin A. These days these oils are often fruit flavoured without the fishy taste of days-gone-by.
- Many fish oils contain high levels of contaminants such as mercury or PCB’s. Try and source impeccable supplies.
- If you are using Krill Oil consider that Krill fishing has already been banned or strictly limited in some areas due to the ecological impact. Fish oil is more sustainable.
And Now To Totally Change The Subject…Nuts!
I hear you asking “so where do nuts come into all this”?
Nuts, especially walnuts, are another great food source of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9. Because high heat, light, and oxygen destroy EFAs, when you eat nuts for their EFA content, choose raw nuts rather than roasted nuts.
Last week I promised a blog follower a GREAT RECIPE for ALMOND MILK so here it is.
Of course it is not for anyone with nut allergies.
Home made almond milk is a wonderful substitute for dairy milk. It is quite nutritious, being high in protein and of course healthy fats. It also contains fibre, Vitamin E, the minerals phosphorous, copper, selenium and calcium, the amino acid tryptophan, as well as flavonoids. In addition it has no cholesterol. It has a slightly nutty taste and a creamy texture and the flavour is lighter than soy or rice milk.
Almond milk is now widely available through supermarkets as well as health food shops, but is pricey and some brands are sweetened. A number of brands have a very low percentage of almonds in them, which greatly reduces their nutrient value. By making your own nut milk you can increase the nut content and so the nutrients, dramatically.
Almond milk is good cold, in tea or coffee, smoothies and can also be used for cooking items like cakes or soups. I use it, but in small quantities and so often end up throwing quite a lot out which means making my own is a great option.
Almond Milk Recipe
Almon milk is easy to make and you can make it in just the quantity that you need. Here is how:
- Soak 1 cup of fresh, raw almonds in filtered water overnight. Make sure there’s extra water to allow room for swelling.
- Remove the almonds from the water.
- For a less gritty texture, remove the skins. If you want a richer flavour toast the skins lightly.
- Place the cup of almonds in a blender with 2 cups of filtered water and blend on high speed until creamy.
- Add flavouring like cinnamon, honey, cardamom, saffron or a pinch of sea salt and then blend again, if you like.
- Strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a fine strainer to separate the pulp.
- You can drink it immediately or for a creamier version, leave it covered in the fridge overnight. It keeps in the fridge for up to a week.
- The remaining pulp can then be roasted dry and stored in a jar to use as almond flour.
- Or you could place the almond skins and the pulp in cheesecloth to use as an invigorating body scrub.
All information and opinions presented here are for information only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before trying any of the treatment suggested on this site.