February is Heart Health Month!
By Andrea Holwegner, Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are polyunsaturated fats that are essential because our bodies cannot produce them, and as a result we must obtain them from our diet. Recent studies show that the typical North American diet contains substantially higher amounts of omega-6 than omega-3, which may not supply an appropriate balance for normal growth, development, and overall health. North Americans eat high amounts of cereal grains, such as wheat, corn, and rice, which are rich in omega-6 and other nutrients, but low in omega-3’s. In addition, much of the meat sources available are low in omega-3’s because they are derived from livestock fed these cereal grains. Health Canada recommends 0.5% of your total energy intake come from omega-3’s (0.5 g omega-3’s per 1000 Calories). On average this is likely 1.0 – 1.5 g omega-3’s per day depending on your caloric intake.
Types of Omega-3 Fats
There are three different essential omega-3’s:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA),
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
ALA is found in foods such as flaxseed, canola, and walnuts, while EPA and DHA is mainly found in fatty fish. All three of these omega-3’s are important; however EPA and DHA may play a more crucial role in growth and development, and disease prevention.
Sources of Omega-3 Fats
The best most reliable sources of omega-3’s include fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, and mackerel; herring; sardines, bluefish, and tuna. Other sources of omega-3’s include flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, walnuts, ground flax seeds, wild game (venison and buffalo) and omega-3 enriched foods (such as omega-3 enriched eggs). Omega-3 rich eggs are the result when chickens are fed a diet rich in flax seeds.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fats
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers cholesterol
- Decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke and blood clots
- Aids in fetal development and infant brain, eye and nervous system development
- May help alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory diseases
- May help protect against certain cancers such as breast, colon, and prostate