Walk anywhere in a grocery store these days, and you’ll see plenty of food packaging with the words “OMEGA 3 FORTIFIED!” (or some variation) plastered all over the place. It’s hard to miss. So what exactly are Omega 3s and why are they so important to our health?
Omega 3s Explained
What are omega 3s? In short, they are a fatty acid that are found, naturally, in a variety of foods. While they are typically associated with fish oil (which can be found in the form of packets, liquids, and softgels — all are good), omega 3s can also be found in animal products, seeds and their oils, as well as dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, or kale. However, you will find it difficult to obtain animal products rich in omega 3s unless they are grass fed — not grain fed, as is the norm in commercial food production. This is just one example of why we should be feeding ourselves and our livestock exactly what we’re meant to eat.
You may have also heard about omega 6s, which balance out the equation…
Omega 6s – The Good and the Bad
Opposite to omega 3s are omega 6s — a sort of yin and yang. What’s the difference, you ask? What it boils down to is inflammation. Inflammation is what happens when, after being on the wrong end of a scrape or cut, your surrounding skin starts to swell up and turn red. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — it’s all part of the human design. Omega 6s are pro-inflammatory and omega 3s are anti-inflammatory.
In terms of ideal ratios, there’s no unanimous consensus, but most experts agree that a 1-2:1 ratio of omega 6s to omega 3s is optimal. However, the average North American diet is hardly close to that — we are closer to a 20:1 ratio, which is way off the mark! This is largely a consequence of our high grain diet, feeding our livestock grains, and eating less omega-3-rich foods.
What are the benefits?
Omega 3s offer a host of health benefits. They include, but aren’t limited to:
increased brain function, including memory;
increased heart health;
healthier skin (seriously, I noticed breakouts on my skin when I stopped taking fish oil supplements for two weeks in 2007);
eat less foods rich in omega 6: grains, vegetable oils, and grain-fed animals, mostly.
In a Nutshell
Omega 3s are a type of anti-inflammatory fat; the opposite of the pro-inflammatory omega 6s. We should have around a 1:1 balance between them, but with our diets we typically are 20:1 in favour of omega 6s. This causes disease, poor brain and heart function, and aging, among other things. In order to avoid these nasty problems and improve your health, consume more omega 3s (grass fed animal products, fish, fish oil supplements, dark green vegetables) and less omega 6s (grains, vegetable oils, grain-fed animal products).
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