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Omega 3 and Omega 6 – why they’re essential to your health

  

Do you know your omega 3 from your omega 6? Consumed in the right amount, these healthy fats can be beneficial to your health. Read on to discover why and how to add these essential fatty acids to your diet.

Why are EFA important in our diet?

Essential fatty acids (EFA) have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. The most common are omega 3 and omega 6, which are both known as ‘essential’ fatty acids because they are not produced naturally by the body. Therefore, we must source these omegas through our diet or supplementation.

Omega 3

Omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties which is beneficial for reducing pain and inflammation. Alongside this, omega 3 plays an important role in heart health, healthy brain function and supporting healthy vision. The most important types of omega 3 are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) along with Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

You can consume omega 3 EPA and DHA from oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, fish oil, or alternatively marine algae, where fish get their omegas from. Plant-based source of omegas in the form of ALA include seed oils which are derived from the seed of a plant, including flaxseed, hemp seed and pumpkin seed. So, this is a great option for those following a non-animal sourced diet and wish to get the full spectrum of omegas. Many people also opt for a fish sourced omega oil which are typically derived from trout and other freshwater fish.

Omega 6

Omega 6 can benefit cardiovascular health, help with regulating blood sugar as well as hormonal balance. Sources of omega 6 include sunflower seeds, walnuts, avocado, hemp seeds and eggs.

Some people follow low fat diets, which could be detrimental to our levels of essential fatty acids, leading to deficiencies. Signs of deficiency may include dry skin, dry hair, and fatigue. Therefore, omegas are essential to our diet and should be consumed daily.

Why is it important to get the right balance of omega 3 and 6?

Most people consuming a western diet tend to be more deficient in omega 3 rather than omega 6. Therefore, it is important to consume foods which are richer in omega 3 to get the right balance of these nutrients. An intake of omega 3:6 in the ratio 3:1 and higher is ideal for our health.

This can be supported by consuming nutritional oils which can be useful for those following a set lifestyle or diet as it offers a convenient way of ensuring a regular intake.

It is important to note that omega 6 essential fatty acids are often mislabelled as inflammatory but more recent research shows that increased intake of omega 6 does not increase the concentrations of inflammatory markers [i]. Whilst omega 6 can convert to arachidonic acid, which is inflammatory, research shows very small amounts  actually gets converted, even when including more in the diet [ii]. This highlights that omega 6 itself doesn’t rev up inflammation. This is also confirmed by a study by Marklund et al. 2019, who investigated 30 prospective studies which showed that arachidonic acid, the metabolic of omega 6, was not associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. In some cases, higher levels were associated with lower risk of total CVD[iii].

It is important to be aware that many ultra processed foods such as refined and processed vegetable oils have higher amounts of omega 6 and contain trans, hydrogenated, and saturated fats rather than unsaturated fatty acids and omegas. Both trans and hydrogenated fats are known to be detrimental and should be avoided, however the body needs saturated fats because they help with hormone production, cell membranes and energy production. Therefore, it is important to consume these fats in moderation. Some studies have shown that replacing saturated fats with omega 6 would have a beneficial effect, rather than a harmful one on the prevention of coronary heart disease [iv].

What should I be looking for when choosing beneficial fats?

There are two types of beneficial fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. When looking for the ideal beneficial fat it is important to look for an organic, vegan source if following a plant-based diet. It is also important to look for a good quality cold pressed seed oil such as hemp or flax seed which are polyunsaturated omega 3s (ALA) which possess anti-inflammatory properties. 

When looking for a fish derived omega oil, considering the ethical stance and sustainability of how the omega is sourced is important. The main things to consider when choosing beneficial fats is the purity of the product and the eco-sustainability of the source. It is crucial to get omegas into our diet, because after all they are essential.

TIP: Look out for cold pressed oils as they are made without applying any additives or heat and are therefore unrefined and packed full of phytonutrients. Whereas a refined oil is made using chemicals and high temperatures which can strip the oil of its nutrients.

At Viridian our nutritional oils are cold-pressed. Like all supplements in the range, our formulations contain 100% active ingredients and avoid junk-filled additives in the form of binders and fillers which benefit the manufacturing process, over the individual’s health.

For more information about diet, supplement and lifestyle advice visit your independent health store. To find your nearest one, visit www.findahealthstore.com

Author: James Pugh, BSc is a Nutrition Advisor at Viridian Nutrition. He holds a BSc honours degree in Sport & Exercise Nutrition.

References

[i] Innes JK, Calder PC. Omega-6 fatty acids and inflammation. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2018 May;132:41-48. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2018.03.004.

[ii] Kawashima, H. Intake of arachidonic acid-containing lipids in adult humans: dietary surveys and clinical trials. Lipids Health Dis 18, 101 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12944-019-1039-y

[iii] Marklund M, Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) Fatty Acids and Outcomes Research Consortium (FORCE). Biomarkers of Dietary Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality. Circulation. 2019 May 21;139(21):2422-2436. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.038908. 

[iv] Virtanen JK. Randomized trials of replacing saturated fatty acids with n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in coronary heart disease prevention: Not the gold standard? Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2018 Jun;133:8-15. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2018.04.002.

The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.




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