Food sources of omega 3 and omega 6 on white background top view. Foods high in fatty acids including vegetables, seafood, nut and seeds

Why are dietary fats important?

Dietary fats are broken down by the body into fatty acids which are used for different biological, structural and functional roles. You can make most of the fatty acids you need from foods you consume (these are known as nonessential fatty acids). However, there are some the body is unable to make and must be consumed within our diets and these are known as essential fatty acids, omega 3’s and omega 6’s. Both are a type of polyunsaturated fat and are incredibly important for the functioning of the body, as well as the brain. 

 The three main types of omega 3 are ALAEPA, and DHA 

ALA is mostly found in plants such as kale, spinach, nuts, seeds, and is the most consumed omega-3 fatty acid within your diet. ALA has to be converted into EPA of DHA before the body is able to use it. Unfortunately, the conversion process is quite inefficient in humans with a limited percentage being converted successfully (1). 

EPA is mostly found in oily fish, seaweed, algae and sometimes found in grass-fed animal products. EPA does not need to be converted into anything before being able to be used to produce eicosanoids, which are powerful hormones that create hormones, regulate the central nervous system and maintain the functioning of the immune system (2). They reduce symptoms of depression and help the body fight inflammation. (3) 

DHA is important components for your eye health and brain development. (4) Shown to reduce LDL (bad cholesterol)  

There are four types of omega 6 the most common is Linoleic acid (LA) which all work to reduce the risk of heart disease, different types of cancers and balance’s out the body’s total cholesterol levels by reducing harmful cholesterol (LDL) and raising beneficial cholesterol (HDL).  

Westernised diets and the increased use of overly processed vegetable oils found within food products has led to a dramatic surge in the amount of omega-6 consumed within diets. This and the reducing amount of omega 3 consumed, has been shown to be detrimental effect on health, causing high blood pressure leading to blood clots and an increased risk of strokes. (5) 

So how much do you need? Aiming for an omega-3: omega-6 ratio of 1:4, currently we are closer to a 15-16:1 (6). How to better balance: Eat a variety of different omega-3 sources daily, use a fish oil or algae-based supplement whilst you amend your diet, choose grass fed animal products or omega-3 fortified, reduce processed products and highly processed vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, corn oil, soyabean oil, check the labels for hidden ingredients. 

References

  1. What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids? Explained in Simple Terms. (2021). Retrieved 18 March 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-are-omega-3-fatty-acids 
  1. (2021). Retrieved 17 March 2021, from https://www.huhs.edu/literature/Essential%20Fatty%20Acids.pdf 
  1. Liao, Y., Xie, B., Zhang, H., He, Q., Guo, L., & Subramaniapillai, M. et al. (2019). Efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs in depression: A meta-analysis. Translational Psychiatry9(1). doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0515-5 
  1. Science, U., & Program, H. (2021). Nonessential and Essential Fatty Acids. Retrieved 17 March 2021, from http://pressbooks-dev.oer.hawaii.edu/humannutrition/chapter/nonessential-and-essential-fatty-acids/#:~:text=The%20body%20is%20capable%20of,are%20called%20essential%20fatty%20acids
  1. Ba, & Social Distancing, Q. (2021). The Benefits of Heart-Healthy Fats . Retrieved 18 March 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/women/features/benefits-of-essential-fats-and-oils#:~:text=Unfortunately%2C%20we%20eat%20way%20too,your%20body%20to%20retain%20water
  1. Balić, A., Vlašić, D., Žužul, K., Marinović, B., & Bukvić Mokos, Z. (2020). Omega-3 Versus Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Prevention and Treatment of Inflammatory Skin Diseases. International Journal Of Molecular Sciences21(3), 741. doi: 10.3390/ijms21030741 

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