The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet: Maximize the Power of Omega-3s to Supercharge Your Health, Battle Inflammation, and Keep Your Mind Sharp
A little bit about the author:
Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD is an award-winning registered dietitian, with a nutrition counselling practice in Newport Beach, California. She has a passion helping people create a healthy relationship with their food, mind and body; whether it’s through one-on-one counselling, writing, speaking or media appearances.
Summary of some key reading points:
All Fats “Are Not Created Equal”
Omega-3 fats do great things, such as helping to prevent heart attacks and cancer and mitigating the effects of arthritis and depression. But how can a fatty substance be healthy? Everyone knows vitamins promote good health, but few people know that omega-3 fats are an essential component of every cell in your body and assist in almost every bodily function. These fats are required for good health. When they were first discovered, they were even referred to as Vitamin F.
Omega-3 fats are found in a variety of sources, including fish, flaxseed oil, canola oil, green leafy vegetables, walnuts, seaweed and hemp. Most people do not consume enough omega-3 fats and consume too much of a harmful type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-6, found in various vegetable oils (soybean, corn, sunflower and safflower) and in margarine. Omega-6 fats are impossible to avoid completely since they are found in almost all foods. Manufacturers promote omega-6 fats as “heart-healthy,” when the opposite is true: these fats promote heart disease and directly interfere with the numerous benefits of omega-3 fats.
“Omega-3 fats [offer] far-reaching benefits, from preventing cancer and heart attacks to treating depression and arthritis.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
Saturated fats, which clog arteries and raise cholesterol levels, are derived primarily from animal products, such as fatty meat, dairy products and eggs. They serve no useful bodily function, unlike healthful unsaturated fats, which can be polyunsaturated (omega-3) or monounsaturated (found in olive and canola oils, avocados, almonds and peanuts). Trans fats are created when oil is hydrogenated, such as in the production of most margarine. They are completely useless and you should avoid them.
“No fat that you eat, whether oil or butter, is made up of just one particular type”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
Most people consume fats their ancestors never ate. This means you probably consume about 20 times more omega-6 fats than your great-great-grandfather. You probably also do not consume enough omega-3 fats, whereas your ancestors most likely did.
Before 1850, cattle grazed for years on grass that was naturally rich in omega-3 fats. People who ate that beef regularly got full helpings of omega-3 fats unknowingly. Today, cattle are slaughtered at about a year old. In their short life spans, they accumulate less omega-3 in their meat than cows did 150 years ago. Today, commercial growers feed cows and commercially raised chickens, pigs, lamb and fish a diet rich in omega-6 fats but poor in omega-3 fats.
“Omega-3 fats are involved in nearly every key function in the body and are an important structural part of every cell.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
The widely promoted polyunsaturated fats are better for you than saturated ones. But the polyunsaturated fats most people consume contain primarily omega-6 fats, so again you end up with loads of omega-6 and not enough omega-3 fats. This imbalance is dangerous. A good balance of the two is necessary to ensure proper heart and brain function, as well as other important functions, such as normal blood pressure, a proper heartbeat and elevated mood.
The best dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 1 to 1, but the typical American’s ratio is 11-1.
“The problem with eating too much omega-6 fats is that they are disease-promoting.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
If you have too much of omega-6 fats in your body, they will eat up your limited supply of some crucial enzymes you need to manufacture important biological compounds and to process omega-3 fats. This causes problems because omega-3 fats promote the manufacture of substances in your body that ultimately reduce stress, deter blood clots, fight inflammation and thereby help ward off serious diseases.
“Those popular low-carb, high-fat diets actually cancel out the good effects of Omega-3 fats.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
A diet heavy on omega-6 fats significantly raises your risk factors for major health problems, such as cancer, clogged arteries, mood disorders, obesity, and vision problems associated with accelerated ageing. Omega-6 makes recovery from illness slower, decreases healthy brain function, and increases sleep and stress problems. Omega-6 fats contain arachidonic acid (AA), a substance that turns on cancer genes, increases heart attacks and triggers mood disorders. An omega-6-omega-3 imbalance can also lead to Alzheimer’s, arthritis, asthma, and breast and colon cancer.
“Omega-3 fats play key roles in maintaining the health of your organs.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
The Inflammation Domino Effect
Heart attacks and many other serious medical problems involve inflammation. Your body responds to inflammation by raising your body temperature to kill bacteria and by creating blood clots to stem blood loss. But a blood clot can lead to a stroke or heart attack. So, indirectly, your body’s response to inflammation puts you more at risk of serious conditions and can actually kill you.
Heart disease is initially caused by inflammation resulting in blood clots, that is why your body depends on eicosanoids, which are chemicals that derive from fat and act as healing compounds. Unfortunately, eicosanoids from omega-6 fats help to increase – not calm – inflammation. Conversely, eicosanoids from omega-3 fats help eliminate inflammation. So when you consume omega-6 fats, you are more inflammation-prone; the opposite is true when you consume more omega-3 than omega-6s. Therefore, omega-6 fats promote heart disease while omega-3 fats protect against it. Similarly, omega-3 helps lessen the risk of cancer while omega-6 increases it.
“Mothers who eat foods rich in omega-3 fats during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and continue to feed their babies such a diet (after weaning) may reduce their daughters’ risk of developing breast cancer later in life.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
What do you do when you have a headache or fever? You take anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen. They block pain, swelling, cramping and fever. Omega-3 fats do the same thing for you – but naturally.
Consider fish oil, which is high in omega-3 fats.
“Even if you are not under stress, omega-3 fats play a remarkable role in learning.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
High blood pressure is a major factor in heart disease. The American Heart Association suggests that you eat fish twice a week and take an omega-3 fish oil supplement daily. Omega-3 fats help smooth the flow of blood, lower the blood’s fat content, keep arteries flexible and work against blood clots. They help maintain a steady, normal heartbeat. Conversely, omega-6 fats tighten blood vessels and clot the blood, increasing the chance of heart disease.
“The decline of omega-3 fats in the Western diet parallels a large rise in psychiatric disorders over the past century.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
Give Your Baby a Head Start
Omega-3 fats contribute to proper brain and heart function in fetuses and babies, as well as in adults. In the last stage of pregnancy, the brain of the fetus increases its omega-3 fat content by 300% to 500%, so an expectant mother’s diet is crucial to her baby’s brain development. It directly affects her child’s health, including its intelligence.
Consuming omega-3 fats during pregnancy also helps lengthen gestation and thus prevent premature birth. Studies show that children of women who regularly consumed fish during pregnancy have better language skills and score higher on IQ tests.
“Omega-3 fats may help prevent obesity by switching off the genes that make fat, lowering hormones associated with obesity (insulin and leptin) and preventing omega-6 fats from making their fat-making compounds.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
Children of mothers who took supplemental DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in fish) during lactation appear to have improved eye-hand coordination and vision. Children who consume higher quantities of DHA have better memory skills and lengthened attention spans. On the other hand, a deficiency of DHA may cause sudden infant death syndrome.
Unfortunately, since nursing mothers often eat too much omega-6, saturated and trans fats, the DHA count in breast milk has fallen radically in most countries during the past 10 years. DHA counts in vegetarian mothers who don’t eat fish are three times lower than normal. For these reasons, many scientists believe that DHA should be considered an essential nutrient.
“Fats commonly thought of as healthful are not necessarily so.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
Omega-3 fats have a direct, positive impact on stress, learning, memory and mood. A direct parallel exists between a decline in omega-3 fats in the diet and an increase in mental disorders. An omega-3 deficiency can lead to mood disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder.
The consumption of large quantities of fish helps limit bipolar disorder and postpartum depression. The American Psychiatric Association suggests that patients who suffer from impulse control, mood disorders or psychotic episodes should consume one gram of EPA (another omega-3 fatty acid) plus DHA daily. Fish oil supplements help ensure that you get the correct amount of EPA and DHA.
Studies indicate that people who take DHA supplements feel less aggression and anger. Omega-3 fats help to prevent dementia, increase the speed with which your brain processes information, and counter dyslexia and autism.
“Margarine is one of the primary sources of fat in the American diet – and a top source of omega-6 fats.”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
When you’re feeling stressed, you produce too much cortisol, a hormone that prevents the brain from storing ideas and retrieving long-term memories. This makes you feel confused and unable to think straight, and it can damage the part of the brain that is critical to learning and memory.
Omega-3 fats reduce stress and slow down this effect. At the same time, they stop the depletion of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps you remain happy. All this makes sense when you consider that your brain is largely made up of fat (60%) and that its approximately 100 billion neurons have a high omega-3 fat concentration.
Omega-3 fats are essential to proper brain chemistry, yet saturated fats negatively affect it by making brain cells harder and less fluid, while excess cholesterol hardens brain cell membranes.
“It doesn’t take drastic changes to omega-optimize your diet, nor do you suddenly have to become a fish lover (although that clearly would be an asset).”excerpt fromThe Ultimate Omega-3 Diet
Keeping Skin Clear and Warding Off Obesity, Diabetes and Cancer
Omega-3 fats help keep your skin clear and healthy, alleviate PMS symptoms, and prevent obesity, allergies, diabetes and high blood pressure. Studies show that animals with omega-6-rich diets become fatter than animals that consume less omega-6.
Conversely, omega-3 fats help avert obesity by switching off fat-making genes, stopping omega-6 fats from developing eicosanoids, reducing leptin (a compound made by fat cells) and increasing the level of fat-burning in the abdominal region.
Omega-3s also lower levels of – and improve resistance to – insulin, thus helping to prevent diabetes. When it comes to cancer, omega-3 fats slow tumour growth, inhibit the blood vessel development that is needed to feed cancer cells, counterbalance estrogen levels raised by omega-6 fats and restore the body’s ability to “clean house,” that is, to eliminate damaged or sick cells.
Omega-Optimizing Your Meals
You need an adequate amount of all three types of omega-3 fats in your diet. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), with a short-chain of fat molecules, is the parent fatty acid of the long-chain omega-3-type fatty acids, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoix acid (DHA), which are derived primarily from fish. For optimal health, you need a combined daily total of EPA and DHA of at least 650 milligrams.
ALA comes mostly from plants, including beans, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables and flax meal, and from such oils like canola, flaxseed and mustard oil. One teaspoon of flaxseed oil (2,420 milligrams) provides your daily ALA requirement. Foods with healthy ALA counts include pinto beans, kidney beans, raspberries and canola oil.
If you eat just one meal with fish weekly, your brain will function as if it were three to four years younger. Try eating four fatty-fish-based meals (halibut, salmon and sardines) weekly. This will supply the daily 650 milligrams of EPA and DHA. Seafood is an excellent source of EPA and DHA. For example, three ounces of Atlantic-farmed salmon has 590 milligrams of EPA and 1,240 milligrams of DHA. As you buy fish, remember to avoid mercury and other contaminants, and do not exceed an EPA and DHA intake of 3,000 milligrams daily.
A Healthy Lifestyle
If the hustle and bustle of life keep you from consuming your daily omega-3 requirements naturally, opt for omega-3 enriched foods. Supplements also work but avoid the ones that contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
In fact, try to keep your omega-6 fat intake at only 2% to 3% of your total fat calorie intake. If you eat meat, take an interest in where it comes from, how the animal grazed and which cuts of meat are lower in saturated fat. Free-range meat is naturally lower in omega-6 fats. Dark poultry meat is higher in arachidonic acid and sausages are high in omega-6 fats.
It is easy to improve your diet and get healthier. Whole grains are full of nutrients and beans are a terrific source of protein. Consume three servings of calcium-rich foods daily. Keep your overall fat content at 20% to 35% of your total food intake. The omega-3 fat percentage of your total fat intake should be around 1% for ALA and 0.3% for EPA/DHA.
Choose fish (not fried), and stick to olive or canola oil salad dressings.
Rating & Should you read the book:
I would rate the book at 9/10★. And now I’m off to buy some fish oils. You might want to do the same too.