Why do we need omega-3s and where can we get them? Find out here, as well as some research supporting certain cooking methods over others.
There are twenty different types of fatty acids needed by the body for optimum health. We can manufacture all except two, thus they are named, the essential fatty acids: Omega-3 linolenic acid (LNA) and Omega-6 linoleic acid (LA).
Specifically, Omega-3 consists of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the components known for their role in protecting the brain and body cells from the physiological effects of stress, reducing heart disease risk factors, reducing inflammation, possibly reducing prevalence of dementia, reducing symptoms of some skin ailments, improving the body's insulin response and satiety hormones, helping support pregnancies, and infant brain and eye development.
Oily fish, such as salmon, scallops, sardines, anchovies, and shrimp, are some of the best natural sources of Omega-3 EPA/DHA. EPA and DHA are readily used by various cells in the body and contribute to the health benefits of Omega-3s; ALA cannot be directly used by the body and has to be converted into EPA and DHA. The conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is limited and thus larger quantities of ALA rich foods need to be consumed to obtain sufficient levels. ALAs are found in plant foods; some great sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, cauliflower, cabbage, winter squash, tofu, soybeans, and walnut oil.
The National Institute of Health recommends consuming at least 2.5 grams of Omega-3s daily. If you are on a plant based diet, thus only consuming ALAs, it is recommended to consume between 1.3-2.7 g ALA per day to ensure adequate amounts are being converted to EPA and DHA.
Omega-6, linoleic acid is much more easy to come by in the American diet and thus the focus is on improving omega-3 status.
How to cook?
A study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, found that healthy elderly people who regularly consumed baked or broiled fish, but not fried, lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease; an insight into how omega-3s are best kept intact through cooking. Alzheimers, is just one of the many conditions omega-3s are known to impact.
Quick Translation: Grams to Portion Size
One 4 oz. serving of fish twice a week - salmon, scallops, sardines, shrimp, cod, tuna, and mackerel are all good sources. Wild and sustainably caught are preferred over farmed. Wild fish consume more foods naturally rich in omega-3s, and thus are thought to contain more of these healthy fats.
Plant sources: about one-quarter of a teaspoon of flax seed oil/ 2TBS flaxseeds or chi seeds, and 1/4 cup of walnuts will all do the trick!
One cup of soybeans contains about 40 percent of the daily requirement, and one cup of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, winter squash, and tofu contain approximately 8-14 percent of the daily requirement.
Whole foods are recommended over supplements, but if you do not enjoy the foods listed above, speak to a health professional about supplementation. There are also many fortified foods available in your local supermarket. Make sure to read labels carefully in order to understand the source of the Omega-3. It will either be from a marine source and thus the readily absorbed EPA/DHA, or ALA from a plant source (requiring increased fortification or consumption i.e. more calories to receive the intended benefit).
Remember, an April '09 study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, "The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors" looked at 12 different modifiable and preventable causes of death in our country and surprisingly (or not) omega-3 deficiency was one of them. Low Omega-3 intake ranked as the sixth cause of preventable death in the U.S.; this translates to 72,000 to 96,000 preventable deaths yearly. Omega-3 deficiency even beat out high trans-fat intake, which is responsible for an estimated 63,000 to 97,000 deaths annually.
Hey, key word... preventable! 'To keep from happening or existing, taking advanced measures against something possible or probable'; as defined by Merriam-Webster. According to the study, up to 96,000 deaths could be prevented by obtaining adequate dietary Omega-3s!
If you are still wondering why you were forced to take cod liver oil as a kid, now you know! So get out there and get your Omega-3s!
Posted by Ken at 12:00 AM
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