This Monday Health Basics topic is one that I think about every live long day, and it involves choosing foods that will support just about everything going on in your body. Let's talk ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS.
I will work on keeping this one shorter and sweeter, dear reader. Talking FATS is a big ole conversation I have on a regular basis, and one that is tough to navigate. Today though, I just want to tackle ONE GOOD THING YOU CAN DO TODAY. And that thing, starting this week, is adding some essential fatty acids in the form of Omega 3s to your daily regime! (Skip to the image of the sweet cows if you just want to get WHAT foods you should reach for.)
Now, let's make this clear: omega 3s are EFAs (essential fatty acids) which means they are necessary for our bodies to do their thing. We aren't able to make these omega 3s out of anything, we need to rely on our diet to supply them in order that we may utilize them in a myriad of biochemical processes in the body. Why may someone be deficient in the omega 3s, you ask? There can be so many different answers to this question from exposure to toxic chemicals, to someone who smokes or is surrounded by second hand smoke; someone who is battling a health condition that is utilizing the precious Omega 3s. If someone's digestion is compromised, they may not be able to get the nutrients they need in order to get the Omega 3s where they need them to be and for the chemical reactions to take place in order to get them working in the body. This compromised digestion may also play a role in preventing a person from getting the micronutrients needed for those chemical reactions to take place, things like magnesium, zinc, vitamins E, C and B6. There are studies out there that point to a correlation between a deficiency in EFAs with a diet where there was an abundance of foods containing trans-fatty acids. (Say no to soybean oil! ALWAYS! And other things. Come to the talk on Navigating Fats.) Of course, seeing as it is an essential that needs to be there in the diet, it goes without saying that a deficiency can also be as a result that the person in question just isn't consuming enough.
There are a few different kinds of Omega 3 fatty acids, and in the interest of keeping it brief, I will say the main ones are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). ALA is the one that we cannot make, we need to get it from our diets. The other two, if our bodies are in good working order, we are able to manufacture them out of ALA. But in this day and age, it's tough to do that conversion work because of toxins in our environment, decreased digestion, chronic conditions or chronic inflammatory statuses.
It's About Balance
One of the things you need to know here is how the Omega 3s play with other fats, or rather, how other fats play with Omega 3s. There are other EFAs out there, Omega 6s being one of them. Omega 6s and Omega 3s work in tandem in our body to do lots of things, but especially working at keeping our overall inflammation in check. In order for this process to work properly, we need a ratio of 2:1 of Omega 6: Omega 3s. (This means that for every 2 Omega 6 molecules, our body needs 1 Omega 3 molecule.) The problem here is that with the way we eat in North America, our diet tips us more in the direction of 20:1 for Omega 6: Omega 3. With this big of an imbalance, the anti-inflammatory work just can't happen. Not only that, but an over-abundance of Omega 6 fats can contribute to an increase in inflammation, kind of like adding insult to injury there. So yes, I will talk food sources for the Omega 3s, but know that by reaching for real food and reducing the processed foods, you will be working already on improving the ratio.
The foods that best serve as excellent sources of these essential Omega 3s:
- flax seeds and flax seed oil (be sure to keep it in the fridge, and buy in small quantities; if it smells or tastes rancid, toss it)
- salmon and other cold water fish like anchovies, mackerel, herring (buy only wild fish, as farmed fish will not contain any Omega 3s!)
- pastured or grass-fed beef (not conventionally raised beef)
- pastured or grass-fed bison
- wild game (deer, moose, venison)
- fish broth (homemade from scratch!)
- chia seeds
- avocado (my favourite! Have 1/2 an avocado a day!)
- olives and olive oil
- Brussels sprouts
- sea plants and seaweeds like Irish moss
- any dairy products produced from cattle fed on grass (butter, ghee, cheese)
- pumpkin seeds
If your body is compromised in any way, or if digestion isn't your strong suit, you may be having a hard time converting that plant form of Omega 3 fats to an animal form. (You are an animal. You aren't a plant.) In the case of someone like this, I would recommend reaching for the animal versions of Omega 3 fatty acids, in order to give your body that which it cannot make, taking some of the pressure off. Taking a fish oil supplement may be of benefit to you. Why not make it do double duty, and pick up some cod liver oil instead? This contains those important EPA and DHA forms of the omega 3s we need, but it also contains other beneficial fat-soluble vitamins like one of my all-time favourites Vitamin A (retinol), necessary for all skin including mucosal linings like your intestinal lining; it's also a good source of Vitamin D, needed for strong bones, robust immunity, hormone manufacturing, mood balancing, thyroid work, and the list goes on.
Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to let you know that you need to reach for these foods every day, indeed ensure they're at the table for every meal. Here is why: these EFAs are critical components in our immune system function; they lower the risk of heart attack, stroke and hardening of the arteries; they are essential to skin and are of benefit to people with psoriasis, eczema, acne and other skin eruptions. They are critical for someone who is suffering from arthritis; necessary to cushion joints and ligaments; important to lubricate the colon and improve our ability to move the poop on down the line; they reduce blood cholesterol; they help to prevent cancer; they are necessary to brain and heart function. Omega 3s are an essential nutrient for your eyeballs. They're also needed for your thyroid and adrenals. You need them for strong bones. Mood regulation. They reduce your risk of death in just about everything under the sun. Including effects from the sun. They help reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimers'. Most important: THEY ARE NECESSARY TO PROTECT YOUR EVER LOVIN BODY FROM INFLAMMATION. Eat them, dear friend, consume them. Make them a part of every meal.
And eat in health. Good food is here, and it's got Omega 3s written all over it. Now go eat half an avocado stuffed with sardines, and drizzled with olive oil for lunch, will you?
(Oh and, did I mention yet that inflammation can show up as low moods? Depression? Anxiety?)
Goodness I'm verbose for a Monday morning. This topic isn't a short one, thanks for reading this far. #mondayhealthbasics