Certain fats are healthy! Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are drawing attention.
No wonder, because fatty acids are building materials for our cells, but also involved in energy metabolism. The better we supply our bodies with the right fats, such as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, the better it can function and stay healthy in the long term.
What is omega-3, though, and what is the difference to omega-6? What are good, and what are bad fatty acids? Also, what does saturated and polyunsaturated mean? Learn more in this article.
Omega 3 or omega 6
A distinction is made between saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are many different types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6.
Particularly important is the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids, as they can compete with each other in metabolism.
Fatty acids are vital for us. The body, therefore, has the practical ability to produce almost all by itself. Some omega-6 fatty acids have to be absorbed through the diet though, which is why they are called essential.
To a small extent, they can be converted into omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA, alpha-linolenic acid). These are also recommended for ingestion through diet or supplements.
Fatty acids are important for the heart, blood vessels, tissues and brain cells, because they largely account for the normal and healthy structure of the cell membranes of all cells in tissues.
What fats should I consume?
Monounsaturated fatty acids are an excellent source of energy. Eating a lot of monounsaturated fats can improve blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels, and, thus, the risk of heart disease. Which foods contain a large amount of monounsaturated fatty acids?
Native and organic olive oil
The high content of antioxidants in high-quality olive oil and avocado oil protects the fats from oxidation and the formation of free radicals.
Saturated fatty acids contribute to our health, although you can often hear in the media about how dangerous saturated fatty acids are. The fear of the media is that saturated fat can clog the arteries and, therefore, contribute to the risk of strokes and heart failure.
The largest study from 2010 with more than 300,000 participants and a period of observation of 23 years had a clear result: There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease.
Eggs, for example, are high in saturated fat, but they are not unhealthy – quite the contrary.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are fatty acids with multiple double bonds between the carbon atoms. Omega 3 fatty acids have their first double bond at the third carbon atom, counted from the omega end of the fatty acid. In the case of omega 6 fatty acids, it is the sixth carbon atom from which a double bond originates.
Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid and arachidonic acid.
The body is able to self-assemble fatty acids, except for the exceptions linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. These must be supplied with food.
Although the structure of the two fatty acid types is very similar, they have different effects on our organism.
The marine omega-3 fatty acids are increasingly found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, as well as in marine algae.
The vegetable ALA (rich in linseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts) can only be converted into the important marine omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) to a limited extent.
In summary, it is important: Our body needs fat to survive! But not every fat is equally good. Monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids are important to us. With the polyunsaturated fatty acids, one should pay attention to the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6.
The difference between omega 3 and omega 6
Omega 3 fatty acids are important for a healthy lifestyle. At the right dose, they reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.
In scientific terms, it has been a groundbreaking discovery that a certain amount of Omega 3 fatty acids can help lower blood pressure and prevent inflammation.
Even in the treatment of mental illnesses, such as depression, the Omega 3 fatty acids show a helpful effect.
Omega 6 fatty acids also have health benefits for us. However, “too much” of it can lead to health problems. Omega 6 fatty acids are also building blocks of cell membranes and are involved in the regulation of inflammatory processes.
Because of the interplay between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, it is important to consider the relationship between the two. With our food, we can influence this and promote our health.
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids have different effects on the body. They produce messenger substances.
Be aware, however, that messengers from omega 6 can act more pro-inflammatory for metabolism. Nevertheless, omega-6 fatty acids are important for growth, wound healing and infection defense. It is crucial to consume both fatty acids in optimal proportions.
The ideal fatty acid ratio
As a rule of thumb, you should eat no more than four times as many omega-6s as omega-3 fatty acids (a 4: 1 ratio).
In today’s typical diet, this often looks different: on average, we consume about ten to twenty times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids (a ratio of 10-20: 1).
This can be problematic because both fatty acids need the same enzyme to degrade and decompose. So if the body processes omega 6, he can decompose less omega 3 at the same time. In the utilization of fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6 compete with each other.
Since omega 3 is very important for brain development, infants are increasingly able to convert omega 3. Therefore, most pregnant women are encouraged to take omega 3 fatty acids in addition to natural food- sources during pregnancy.
It is helpful to look at the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in foods. For example, it is 8: 1 for virgin olive oil and 120: 1 for sunflower oil.
Here you can optimize even in the small things in everyday life: Fingers away omega-6-rich oil such as sunflower oil, safflower oil and soybean oil.
Where can I find omega 3 fatty acids?
Wild-caught, fatty fish contains sufficient quantities of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). You should take in as much omega 3 per day as contained in 50 – 200 g of salmon, alternatively in dietary supplement capsules 1-4 grams of fish oil. A good source of omega 3 are also anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel.
Beef also contains Omega-3, however, with a relatively lower content than in fish. It can be stated that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is more favorable in animals fed with grazing.
Grass naturally contains more omega-3 fatty acids than corn and cereals, which farmers feed to animals conventionally.
Why is omega 3 so important?
Scientists have so far explored the following:
1- An omega-3 deficiency can mean a 10-fold higher risk of sudden cardiac death.
2- Reduction of stroke risk.
3- Important for optimal brain development of babies – even during pregnancy.
4- Experiments in Alzheimer’s patients show an improvement in cognition and dementia development through increased intake of omega-3.
5- An omega-3 deficiency can promote bipolar disorder and depression.
6- Schizophrenic patients tend to have low omega-3 fatty acid levels.
7- In hyperactive children and in patients with the attention-deficit syndrome, lower omega-3 fatty acid levels can be detected than in healthy children.
Where does our omega 3 deficiency come from?
In the course of evolution, there was a change in our intake of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Anthropologists estimate that our ancestors took the fatty acids in the ratio 1: 1.
With the onset of the industrial revolution about 140 years ago, there was a significant shift in the relationship.
This was mainly due to the rapid progress of the modern vegetable oil industry and the fact that they suddenly began to feed the animals with cereals and corn.
This changed the fatty acid profile of the meat. The feed of the animals, thus, has an effect on the composition of the meat, and its products such as milk.
The situation is similar with humans. Depending on what we eat in which quantities, proportionately our eating habits do reflect in our body composition. Hence, “you are what you eat.”
By the way, in 1935 the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the diet was still 8: 1. By 1985, the ratio has increased to 10: 1. Today the ratio of an average diet is between 10: 1 to 20: 1, strongly dependent, of course. on the diet.
Does omega 6 cause damage?
Most people consume relatively high levels of omega 6 fatty acids. We can find them in processed or fried foods, portions of margarine or animal products, as long as the animals have been fed omega 6-containing feed.
Certain oils, which many people like to use for cooking, contain a high amount of omega 6 fatty acids, as well. In addition to thistle and sunflower oil, these include rapeseed or corn oil.
Unfortunately, the majority of the population consumes omega 3 fatty acids only in small amounts. This happens because people tend to consume the main foods containing omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, or nuts not often enough.
The ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids shifts to the detriment of health
Although we absolutely need fatty acids to live, the intake of too much unsaturated fatty acids, especially the pro-inflammatory omega 6, may be hazardous to your health.
Scientists today blame the increasing amount of unsaturated fatty acids we eat for a variety of diseases. All inflammatory-based diseases can be listed here. From obesity, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, insulin resistance to cancer. Why is that?
Free radicals and antioxidants
On the one hand, polyunsaturated fatty acids change when they come into contact with air, light and heat. This creates radical molecules. Free radicals are important for cell repair and the immune system.
But here, too, the balance is important. Too many will harm the organism and damage our cells. In the diseases of cancer, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s one can always measure an enhanced amount of free radicals.
In order to stop this process, we need antioxidants, which unfortunately are scarcely present in refined vegetable oil. They refine the cheap vegetable oils to clear them from any impurities.
Important antioxidant substances, such as vitamin E, are missing in relevant quantities. Vitamin E is a natural protection of the plant to protect the contained fatty acids from oxidation.
In cheap vegetable oil, the oxidation process of fatty acids and the formation of radicals already begin in the supermarket shelf.
If you then heat this fat while cooking, you will lose the few remaining antioxidants, too. We’re eating the worst available fat in masses!
What happens in the body is alarming
Fats are important for our cell membranes, essential for their basic structure. When we consume polyunsaturated fatty acids, we make our cells more and more vulnerable.
When the polyunsaturated fatty acids start to oxidize and form free radicals, this can promote inflammation in the body, which can lead to diseases.
Se can avoid chronic illnesses while providing our cells with sufficient antioxidant substances, such as vitamin E, C, A, and other cell-derived substances, such as glutathione.
Through a nutrient-rich diet, we nourish the body with sufficient nutrients and protect ourselves from potential damage, including those that may emanate from polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Since mindful eating cuts out industrially prepared and processed foods, there are far fewer risks of ingesting too much omega 6 fatty acids than in the usual Western diet.
Consumption of fish and seafood can also guarantee adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. In case you aren’t such a big fan of seafood, like me, you can substitute with fish oil capsules.
When you purchase fish oil capsules, make sure that they always contain a minimum of 500 mg of EPA/DHA per 2000 mg of fish oil.
You should furthermore ascertain that it is 100 percent natural oil. This means they should be free of Mercury, PCBs, Synthetics and other unnatural additives and ingredients. Here’s one great and reliable product made all-natural with Peruvian anchovies:
Are you getting enough omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in your diet? How do you keep up with the regular omega 3 intake? Are you a fish lover and getting your required amount this way, or are you taking supplements? Let us know your story in a comment below.
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