In part 2 of my Nutrition series on the health benefits of fats we will look into essential types of fats, their different types, benefits and dangers. We will especially focus on the benefits of omega3 for optimal health.
If you have not read part 1, make sure you go check it out here.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Fatty acids (EFAs) or Polyunsaturated FAT (PUFAs)
- 2 OMEGA3 FATTY ACIDS
- 3 Omega3 food sources:
- 4 Categories of Omega3
- 5 Omega3 health benefits:
- 6 Omega3 sources:
Essential Fatty acids (EFAs) or Polyunsaturated FAT (PUFAs)
These fats have been deemed essential since the body cannot produce them on its own and we need to take them through our food. They are required for optimal brain and body health and they are also responsible for endocrinological and hormonal balance and health.
In the EFA molecule there are less hydrogen atoms than carbon ones. More specifically, there are 2 or more hydrogens missing (“poly” meaning a lot ). These fats tend to stay liquid at room temperature.
EFAs are split into 2 categories: Omega3 fatty acids and Omega6 fatty acids:
OMEGA3 FATTY ACIDS
Omega3 are another type of polyunsaturated fat which are essential for human health since the body cannot manufacture them on its own.
Omega3 food sources:
- fish products such as salmon, herring, tuna, shellfish, seaweed (in the form of EPA and DHA).
- green vegetables such as kale, Brussel sprouts (in the form of ALA) and
- vegetable oils such as flaxseed (in the form of ALA).
Note that, while some foods (such as olive oil), may contain all 3 types of omegas (3-6-9), certain foods are always predominant in specific omegas, meaning they contain more of one over the other.
As an example, nuts contain omega 9 as mentioned in my previous post. However, nuts are considered an omega 6 food since the majority of fats in them are of that type (omega 6). Olive oil contains omega 3, however its predominant type is omega 9, deeming olive oil as an omega 9 food.
Categories of Omega3
Omega3s come in 3 categories based on if they are plant-based or animal-based:
- ALA (Alpha-linoleic acid) is plant based and has an 18-carbon chain with 3 double bonds,
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is animal-based and has a 20-carbon chain with 5 double bonds,
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is animal-based and has a 22-carbon chain with 6 double bonds.
All three types have their 1st double bond in the 3rd position of the fatty acid which is why they are called omega-3.
ALA is converted to EPA and DHA however, this happens in smaller doses as the enzymatic process in the body is faulty. The other interesting thing is that this process is better in women than in men, which means that women can benefit from plant-based omega 3s.
ALA (not to be confused with the antioxidant Alpha Lipoic Acid) can be found in Chia seeds and Flax seeds. It has been shown to lower levels of CRP (C-Reactive Protein: an inflammation marker) something that was never proven with the use of Fish Oil alone.
However, for optimal health, it is better to focus on getting the majority of your omega 3s from animal-based sources rather than depending solely on plant-based ones.
ALA SOURCES FOR VEGANS:
If you avoid animal based sources then you can base your omega 3 intake on marine algae (75%) and flax seeds (25%). I would however avoid flaxseed oil as it is highly concentrated.
ALA SOURCES FOR EVERYONE ELSE:
For people who have no problem with animal-based foods, focus on getting your omega 3s from a combination of seafood (salmon, trout, shellfish etc.) and plant-based sources (marine algae, chia seeds and flaxseed).
MIND THE DHA-EPA RATIO!
Bear in mind, that you should always focus more on DHA rather than EPA to get all the benefits of brain and heart health (from DHA) and to protect yourself from the dangers of EPA over-consumption. EPA over-consumption can lead to brain degeneration and it lowers inflammation by suppressing the immune system.
Taking 600-1000mg of DHA daily can improve insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol by converting it to testosterone (a must for brain health and better mood).
What about supplementing with DHA alone?
Supplementing only with DHA is a mistake in my opinion for 2 reasons:
- Relying on a single nutrition will create a nutritional imbalance in your body at some point.
- Your body needs all 3 forms (ALA, EPA and DHA) to make omega3s in your body.
The only exception is if you are taking a lot of EPA in your diet already and you need extra DHA to balance it out. Plus, the good news is that most (good) DHA supplements out there, have a bit of EPA in them (usually 500mg DHA with 50-100mg EPA) so you don’t have to worry about supplementing with DHA alone. Just make sure to check the label.
Once you cover your nutritional bases, you can look at omega-3 supplements. I cover this subject fully in my fish oil supplements article.
Omega3 health benefits:
- They support artery health in both brain and heart by reducing plaque buildup and blood clots in arteries.
- They raise HDL (good cholesterol). They also lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides by elevating HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
- They support bone health by properly adjusting the body’s calcium levels.
- They protect the brain by insulating nerve cells in the brain. As a direct result, improved mental health is shown especially in the cases of depression, eating disorders, bipolar depression and even schizophrenia.
- Also, you will experience laser-sharp focus when you supplement with fish oils.
- They fight off and protect against cancer. Certain types of cancer are linked to low intakes of omega 3. (prostate, colon and breast cancer)
- They support hormonal health, fight off diabetes and, in the long term, fat loss by controlling the release of insulin (the fat storage hormone) and by optimizing your blood sugar levels during your meals. (This means that you use your food as fuel rather than having it stored as fat).
- They can repair and support your nervous system.
- They are amazing for recovery especially for aching and sore muscles.
- They support menstrual health in women by reducing PMS and menstruation pains.
- I left the best and most important for last: they fight off inflammation in the body. This in turn has 4 benefits:
- Supports joint health and joint stiffness, thus protecting from arthritis,
- Supports lung health (improvement of asthma).
- Supports intestinal health (reduction of bowel inflammation thus helping against colitis and helping with Crohn’s disease symptoms),
- Supports skin health and is able to fight symptoms from psoriasis and acne.
- Fish (sardines and wild farmed salmon),
- Grass-fed organic beef,
- Free range eggs (from chickens that were fed flaxseed),
- Flaxseed oil (in moderation),
- Chia seeds.
You can also get them in capsules but be very wary of their quality, freshness and origin, as it is very important. Some places in the world tend to be more contaminated than others so it is also wise to check the origin of your omega 3 supplement.
In order to get all the omega3 benefits I aim for 1-2gr of fish oil (capsules or liquid) with a content of DHA: 600-1200, EPA: 300-600.
Last but not least, make sure you do not go higher than 2-4grs daily and that their DHA content is higher than EPA.
This concludes part 2 of my articles series on the different types of fat and their health benefits. In part 3 we will talk about another type of fat, its benefits and dangers.
I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did writing it. Putting together this article took a bit of time but it will only take you a second to click on the Share buttons below and show your support to this blog.
Also if you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Until then stay strong, healthy and free!
by Nick Sigma
CWC, EH, E-YRT200
- Dolecek, T.A. “Epidemiological evidence of relationships between dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and mortality in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial.” PSEBM. 200:177-182, 1992.