It’s February and it’s heart month and unless you have heart disease or heart attacks run in your family, you may not really feel like this is important for you, but hear us out—having a healthy activity level, eating the right diet is important for everyone, and when it comes to nutrients for the heart, having the right fats in your body is as important as having the right vitamins!
The right fats help to keep our cell membranes flexible this means that we have cells that are easily able to move and detoxify better. This leads to improved circulation and oxygen uptake.
That’s right, good cell walls help us to move the nutrients in and the junk out! We also need good cell membranes so that our cells can repair themselves from damage and prevent disease.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are the necessary fats that humans are not able to synthesize, and must be obtained through the diet. They are long-chained polyunsaturated fatty acids and are found in two families: Omega 3 and Omega 6.
The big deal about EFA’s is that most North Americans are deficient in them, especially Omega 3, due to our over-processed diets.
Pretty much everyone has heard of essential fatty acids (EFAs), and knows that omega-3s are good for you, but do you know why?
Omega-3 fats help to keep your cells soft and supple. If you’re short on omega-3s your cells get hard and rigid, they don’t bend and the don’t bounce back. This applies to your heart and blood vessels, but also to your skin, muscles and joints.
Omega-3s are like the lubricant for your body and every cell. If you only feed your body commercially raised chicken, beef and pork and you skip the fish, egg, flax, walnut, hemp and chia, then you’re going to be missing the bounce in your flesh! Before you give up beef, let’s clarify that if you eat grass fed beef you will get omega-3s from your meat.
Fish that are high in omega-3s are; salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, cod, halibut, herring and bluefish. There are two main types of omega-3s, these are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is known as the anti-inflammatory fat and DHA is known for it’s brain health properties. Both fats are important for immune function, cardiovascular health, cholesterol levels, blood clotting, reproductive health, cell growth and repair.
Cod liver oil contains high levels of EPA and DHA as well as vitamins A and D. Many of the benefits of cod liver oil are believed to be from its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Some people prefer to take this oil in the winter to boost their immune system.
Also, another important point to understand is EFAs from plant sources, are actually precursors known as alpha linolenic acid (ALA), and are used to make EPA and DHA. Sometimes people have a hard time converting these plant oils to their active forms and so eating fish and using fish oils allows us to have readily available fatty acids that are not dependent on our body processing. Plant oils that are high in omega 3 (ALA) are flax seed oil and perilla seed oil.
Perilla seed oil is hypoallergenic and well tolerated with high bioavailability for those not able to take flax oil or dislike the taste.
If you are allergic to fish, nuts or seeds, there is an algae source of omega-3s which can be a good alternative and helpful to support your omega-3 levels.
The scoop on Omega 6
Omega-6 essential fatty acids are the fats that we get abundantly from other plants—sunflower, canola, safflower, vegetable oil, soybean and corn oils are all high in omega-6 fats. These are considered essential, but they have become over abundant in the modern diet through over consumption of processed foods. Due to the excess of omega-6s, many of us have an imbalance between our omega-6 and omega-3s vs having the ideal 1:1 ratio and this leads to inflammation.
There are some highly beneficial omega-6 fats, such as evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil and borage oil that contain gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and this oil is quite amazing at balancing our hormones as well as acting as internal moisturizers for the skin, especially for those who suffer with eczema. When it comes to omega-6, we need to limit a lot of the processed vegetable oils, while possibly supplementing with primrose, black currant and borage oils. Good sources also include sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Omega 9 fatty acids
Omega-9 fats are actually NOT essential because we can make these from the other fats, if we need them. The body can manufacture a limited amount on its own, provided essential EFAs are present. We can also easily consume these fats from; olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, cashews, almonds and walnuts. These oils can help with lowering cholesterol in some situations, but they are not necessary to supplement, so don’t waste your money on a 3-6-9 supplement. Olive oil is the best oil in this category with many health benefits.
How much should I be taking?
When reading the labels on omega supplements, you want to be sure to turn the bottle around and see the amounts of EPA and DHA, usually these are in a 2:1 ratio and you want to make sure that you’re getting at least 1000 mg of EPA and at least 600 mg of DHA per day. The total omega will vary with each supplement and often appears to be a good amount but the active ingredients (EPA and DHA) are what matter; for most to get this dose, it is likely 2 capsules a day or 2 tsp per day. Regardless of your preference for omega 3 oils, it is important to take them with food, they will absorb better and are less likely to repeat. A good quality oil is important too, why leave it up to chance? It is about your health.
Dr. Rebecca Sagan, ND and Dr. Hajnalka Pinter, ND