What is all the fuss about Omega 3?
A group of Greenland Inuits brought Omega 3 to the headlines when a medical research study was carried out in their village. These guys experienced virtually no cardiovascular disease in their community and the correlation was found in one dish they ate in abundance - you guessed it - oily fish! Our newspapers have been telling us for years now to get this fatty acid into our diet x times a week - but why? What is it, and, most importantly, how the heck do we get enough of it?
The science-y bit
Our bodies are clever, but they can't manufacture everything themselves. They need fuel to keep them functioning the way we would like. They need ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS. We are responsible to eat certain things to help our bodies with certain jobs. A bit like putting petrol in your car - you wouldn't get far on the motorway with a tank full of cotton wool.
One component of these essential nutrients is made up of ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS. They are from the group of polyunsaturated fats, and there are actually only 2 EFA's - alpha-linolenic acid (which is an Omega 3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (which is an Omega 6 fatty acid). For my brain's sake, from now on we shall call these two little ones Omega 3 and Omega 6. They get cleverly converted into prostaglandins and they go on to sort loads of stuff out.
The Omega 3's get busy converting to prostaglandin type 3, which is essential for our brains! It also helps vision, learning ability, co-ordination and mood (yay!) It also improves immune function, reduces inflammation, maintains water balance in the body and controls fat and cholesterol levels. Phew!
Meanwhile, the Omega 6 is beavering away being switched into prostaglandins type 1 and 2. These dudes help our blood vessels - relaxing them, lowering blood pressure and keeping the blood nice and thin and easily flowing round the body. They also act like the brother Omega 3 with immunity, inflammation, and water balance.
They are a busy pair of fatties!
So what should I be eating to make sure I put the right petrol in my tank?
Eating the right amount of Omega 6 is easier, as good sources are eggs, nuts, avos, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and even some cereals. But Omega 3 is more difficult to get into our diet. It is found mainly in fish oils, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and ground linseed, also known as flaxseed.
So lets get real, only the keenest beans are going to grind a tablespoon of linseed on our porridge each morning. If this works for you then great! It is a good option for non-fish eaters. For the rest of us here's the low down on the other food:
(We're aiming for 1.6g a day for men and 1.1g a day for women - 11.2g and 7.7g a week respectively)
A quarter cup of walnuts: 2g
A portion of salmon: 2g
A portion of makerel: 1.5g
Cup of cooked soybeans: 1g
Half a tin of sardines: 1g
Tuna steak: 0.3g
Handful of pumpkin seeds: 2g
And the winner is surely:
2tbs ground linseeds: 3.5g
This boils down to a lot of salmon to be eaten in the week! Now you can see though the Omega 3's can be found elsewhere too. So a women could easily consume her dosage of Omega 3 in a week with a portion of salmon, a handful of pumpkin seeds, a cup of soybeans, and a handful of walnuts. Or just have a few spoonfuls of ground linseed!
I'm off to roast some pumpkin seeds!