Fats have gotten a bad rap. The popular notion that we need to cut back on all fats to stay healthy is a discrimination against those well behaved fats that are actually good for our health. The truth is: we need to reduce unhealthy fats and INCREASE healthy ones! Americans spend nearly $3 billion on Omega-3 fortified foods and nutritional supplements every year. But there’s more than just one special Omega fat. Confused? Don’t worry, we’re about to uncover how to get your Omega 3-6-9 game locked tight, knowwhatimsayin’?
The Omega 3-6-9 Balance
Many health benefits have been linked to Omega-3 fats and some to Omega-6 and Omega-9, but the key to a healthy relationship with these fats is the balance between them. Biological processes are often controlled with an ‘accelerator and break’ type system. Omega-6 fats accelerate inflammation and unless paired with Omega-3 this inflammation goes unchecked, potentially resulting in various health afflictions like cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. Let’s look at them in more detail.
What is Omega-3, Anyway?
Your body needs certain nutrients to survive, and fats are in this essential group: every single cell in your body and all your nerves are wrapped in a protective layer of fat. Your brain is about 60% fat. You also need fats to produce hormones and help other nutrients get absorbed. Since the body isn’t able to produce all of its own fats, you need to get them from your diet.
Omega-3 fats are ‘polyunsaturated.’ That means they have fewer hydrogen bonds, are more liquidy and less likely to clog you up inside. The ‘3’ denotes the location of a double carbon bond. Omega 3 cannot be produced by the body so we need to get it from our diet, from foods like seeds, beans and leafy green veggies. It has various health benefits:
- Higher HDL – Omega- 3 has been linked to higher “good” HDL cholesterol levels which help improve the health of the heart.
- Blood pressure – Studies have revealed that diets rich in Omega-3 help to lower the blood pressure of people suffering from hypertension.
- Prevention of Cardiovascular diseases – eating of diets rich in Omega-3 helps in the prevention of various cardiovascular diseases.
- Strengthening of bones – Several studies have led to the inference that Omega-3 assists in the increase of calcium which ultimately leads to a stronger skeletal structure.
- Helps deal with depression – Clinical trials revealed that people that took Omega-3 supplements in addition to their prescribed drugs felt less depressed as opposed to those that only took the antidepressants. Fat-tastic!
- Menstrual pain – In a study of 42 women, those that took Omega-3 registered less menstrual pain than those that took the placebo. Go ladies, go ladies!
- Cancer – Population studies have revealed that populations that consume more Omega-3 are less susceptible to prostate and breast cancers.
Another common polyunsaturated, Omega-6, which also can’t be created by the body, so needs to be obtained from food. The foods highest in Omega-6 are oils: grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, poppyseed oil, walnut oil, cottonseed oil and sesame oil. We still need Omega-6 for the following roles it plays in the body:
- Reduces high blood pressure and nerve pain – Omega-6 contains y-linolenic acid (GLA), which has various medicinal properties including reducing blood pressure and nerve pain.
- Reduces inflammation – eating foods containing Omega-6 provides the body with anti inflammatory fatty acid Dihomo-y-linolenic acid (DGLA)
- Reduces risk of heart disease – Linolenic acid is thought to reduce the chances of getting heart disease
Produced by our bodies (aren’t they amazing?), so there’s less of a need to get these essential fatty acids from food. The foods highest in Omega-9 are: Hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, soybean oil, olive oil, canola oil and almond butter. Omega-9 helps our bodies to:
- Improve cholesterol levels – Omega-9 increases “good” HDL cholesterol and reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol. This helps keep our blood vessels clear of disease threatening plaque build up, reducing the chances of heart disease or stroke.
- Increased energy and good mood – Omega-9 increases energy and the capacity for physical exertion, as well as boosting mood.
Redressing the Balance
In the past humans had a balanced 1:1 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6. Nowadays, the Standard American Diet (SAD) has far too many Omega-6 fats, found in processed and fried foods, making the ratio as high as 17:1. Foods that contain Omega-3 also contain Omega-6 in much higher quantities. Bearing this in mind, an Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio of between 1:2 to 1:5 would be ideal for the body.
The Standard American Diet leads to lots of lifestyle diseases which are intimately related to inflammation. Some foods that contain Omega-6 like seeds and nuts also have a generally healthy nutrient profile, however if you want to reduce your Omega-6 intake, ditch refined vegetable oils. Omega-9 is already made by the body so you don’t need to worry about getting enough from your diet.
The exact nature of what foods cause what problems is hard to identify, due to the long term accumulated problems of toxicity and inadequate nutrition, but one thing is sure, Omega-3 fats boost your health and undo some of the damage done from years of poor nutrition.
FACT: The RDA for Omega-3 is 1.6 grams per day for adults, which is just a single tablespoon of ground flax seeds. Eating healthy fats with your meals is enough to meet these RDAs and surpass them!
Plant vs. Animal Sources of Omega-3
Fish and Krill produce eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are both types of Omega-3. Plants, on the other hand, produce alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which is a different type of Omega-3.
Plant based Omega-3’s are converted into the ‘animal’ type (that we need) inside the body, but, this conversion happens quite slowly. It was originally thought that the majority of health benefits are linked to EPA/DHA (the ‘animal’ type) of Omega-3. However, recent studies are showing that the benefits of ALA (for example from flax) are just as powerful.
How Do Herbivores Ensure Their Omega-3 Needs Are Met?
Firstly, reduce the Omega-6 in your diet by reducing fried food consumption and ideally cutting out processed and refined foods (well they aren’t really foods anyway, more like mildly-toxic-nutritionally-dead-food-like-substances). This will free up your enzymes for the task of converting Omega-3 into the kind you need.
Secondly add more ALA (plant Omega-3) to your diet, choose from the delicious list below!
The Best Plant-Based Sources of Omega-3
Marine phytoplankton has been dubbed “the most important plant in the world” by NASA due to it providing most of the Earth’s oxygen supply. It’s also the best plant-based source of Omega-3. This miraculous aquatic form of vegetation is an extremely nutritious superfood, containing vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, pseudo-B12, C and D, as well as being 60% protein. Marine phytoplankton is the main source of energy for blue whales, powering them to swim hundreds of miles in one go without having to stop. Unfortunately, it is often quite expensive and one of the hardest to find items on this list.
There are several seeds rich in Omega-3 (with a good Omega-6 ratio) and flax seeds are top on the list.
- An ounce of ground flax seed has approximately 6 times the RDA (38325mg per cup)
- Chia seeds are another great source of Omega-3 and an ounce of Chia seeds will give you 495mg of Omega-3 (they are also great sources of manganese and calcium)
- An ounce of Hemp seeds packs 1100mg of Omega-3 and is a complete protein
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are also good sources of Omega-3 but they are in unfavourable ratios, containing high amounts of Omega-6
Walnuts are another good source, and since they look like your brain you can be confident it’s Mother Nature telling you they are good for your brain. Bananas are good for….. yes, you guessed it, sperm. These brainy nuts contain a huge amount of ALA in an easy to consume way (10,623mg per cup) which is easier to chow down on than flax seeds (sorry flax, we love you but you are difficult to eat in large quantities!).
Beans may not provide as much Omega-3 as seeds or walnuts but they are still a good source of fatty acids in favourable ratios. Different bean varieties have different compositions but the best bean variety for Omega-3 are Mung beans. Mung beans pack up to 15 times as much Omega-3 as Omega-6. Other beans that are great sources of Omega-3 are kidney beans and navy beans.
Even though green leafy veggies are not very good sources of fat in whichever form, we included it in this list for the mere fact that their ratio favors Omega-3. Arugula, Romaine, Purslane and Spinach are all good givers of Omega-3 and they can all be eaten raw. You can experiment with recipes that include multiple sources of Omega-3, like a raw plant-based salad topped with seeds and walnuts!
Winter squashes are some of the best Omega-3 sources for herbivores. They include the popular butternut squash, acorn squash, and various pumpkins. All of these are also great for soups as well as roasting.
All cabbage varieties are rich sources of Omega-3 but cauliflower is the best source. Other cabbage varieties that are rich in Omega- 3 are Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and Bok choy. Even though it is still arguable whether these are cabbage varieties or not (“don’t box me in, man”), there is no denying that they are great sources of Omega-3.
Chew the Fat
Combining different sources of plant-based Omega 3-6-9 in your diet while reducing processed foods (as they are gradually killing us!) ensures you will be a healthy herbivore with a tip top mind and enough healthy fats to shake a plant-based stick at.
Play Your Part
Every single awakened individual has a role to play in creating global change. By sharing this article on your favourite social media channels you speed up the process of conscious co-creation. Your actions do make a difference. If just one more person reads this article they receive the gift of the increased health and harmony of plant-based nutrition. Share this knowledge now.