We've heard the rumours that modern diets and lifestyle habits will be our undoing. Health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, obesity, mental health disorders, and everything in between, are becoming more prevalent in our society. When looking at our healthcare options, it can be overwhelming to try and make decisions that benefit our health.
However, I will offer an exciting way to improve your health, boost your brainpower, and decrease your waistline: Include more Omega 3s into your existing diet.
It all goes back to inflammation. The reality is our bodies need an inflammatory response to protect ourselves from injury. Every time you cut yourself or break a bone, your immune system's first line of defence is to send out inflammation to rush the site of your injury, pad it, protect it, and increase blood flow to the area. With the extra blood flow, there will be healing chemicals that your body can provide to clot and knit the wound and build and repair your broken bones. After this job has been done, your body will send its partner in crime, anti-inflammatories, to act like an emergency room janitorial staff, sweeping away and discarding all of the debris of the trauma.
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Our immune system also sends out inflammatory responses for things besides cuts and breaks, such as viruses, toxic chemicals, intolerances to foods, and physical conditions like arthritis. Acute inflammation can be beneficial to prevent and protect our bodies from being invaded or compromised. However, a constant inundation of inflammatory responses due to lifestyle and dietary choices can tip our health to the breaking point. Chronic inflammation can lead to severe and life-altering outcomes such as arthritis, heart disease, body pain, fatigue, mood disorders, gastrointestinal problems, and auto-immune diseases.
To say that food directly relates to chronic inflammation is a bit of an understatement. Considering that we eat multiple meals in a day, we can either choose to improve or decrease our health based on the foods we eat. Foods that contain higher Omega 6 promote an inflammatory state, and foods high in Omega 3 encourage the reduction of inflammation in your body.
Not only that, Omega 3s play a pivotal role in making us thrive as humans.
According to the research conducted by the Alzheimer's Society, Omega 3 is thought to be a "brain food," as our brains thrive on Omega 3 to provide energy and make up our cell membranes. Omega 3s can add fluidity to the cell membranes in your brain, making it easier for neurons to send messages. A diet rich in Omega 3 has also enhanced your learning and memory.
Omega 3 can cause muscle cells to become more responsive to insulin, as found in a study titled Metabolic health benefits of long-chain Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats. Omega 3s can also boost your metabolic health by increasing the number of enzymes involved in weight loss, such as fat oxidization and appetite suppression.
Now that I have you convinced that Omega 3s are hidden superheroes let's talk about practicalities when including them in your diet.
According to an aptly named study, The Importance of omega 6-omega 3 essential fatty acids ratio, most western diets contain a 16:1 ratio for Omega 6 to Omega 3s, which heavily favours an inflammatory state. Instead, we should aim for a 1:3 balance in favour of Omega 3s, which means dramatically limiting our sources of pro-inflammatory foods.
You should consider limiting the foods rich in Omega 6 are deep-fried foods using refined flour or large amounts of refined sugar. Cooking oils such as grapeseed, safflower, and vegetable oils contain more Omega 6 and fat replacement products such as margarine.
As your body still needs Omega 6, you can swap in healthier forms of Omega 6 by including more foods like nuts and seeds, poultry, eggs, avocado, and tofu into your diet.
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Now let's discuss Omega 3s; however, I will warn you that they are more complex. You may see Omega 3 enriched foods referencing multiple acronyms (DHA, EPA, ALA) that make no sense, so let's demystify this. There are three components of Omega 3: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Alpha-linolenic acid (APA)
DHA & EPA sources are more readily used in the body. The richest sources are from sea vegetables (seaweed) and seafood, especially fatty varieties like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, oysters etc. It's recommended that you eat fish products approximately two times a week to get the benefits of Omega 3. Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should also get the same amount of fish in their diet as DHA (a form of Omega 3) is used throughout the pregnancy.
More land-loving foods, such as flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soy, dark leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables, are all rich in ALA. The reality with ALA is that it converts to the more useable forms of Omega 3s, which are EPA or DHA, and during that conversion process, we lose a lot of benefits in the transfer.
Therefore, if you're a vegan or a vegetarian, you may need to discuss Omega 3 supplementation with your doctor, as your plant-based sources of ALA will struggle to get you the requirement you need. There are plenty of good fish oil supplements on the market which doesn't taste too fishy. However, I urge you to consult with your doctor before taking any new form of supplementation, as all supplementation affects your body and can interact with other medications you may be taking.
Jen Thomas is a Chennai-based women's weight loss coach