Omega 3 is an Essential Fatty Acid, which means we must get it from our diet to survive – just like vitamins and minerals. They can either be ‘short chain’ omega 3s (nuts, seeds and their oils) or ‘long chain’ omega 3s (seafood). Our body is able convert ‘short’ into ‘long’ but this conversion process is dependant on many factors, including nutritional status, stress levels and alcohol consumption. Therefore, it can be helpful to include long chain omega 3s from seafood in the diet*.
Most of us know that omega 3s are good for us and that they support brain health, eye health and cardiovascular health. Omega 3 also plays a very important role in regulating the immune system’s inflammatory response. If you don’t suffer from any inflammatory conditions (for example, eczema, joint inflammation or asthma) it might be easy to think that ‘inflammation’ is not applicable to you… but think again.
Many of the foods present in the western diet can be pro-inflammatory such as sugar, animal products (including red meat, dairy and eggs), alcohol and trans fats (found in some processed foods). With the exception of trans fats, this doesn’t mean these foods should be avoided at all times but it is important to balance intake with anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables and also omega 3 fatty acids.
How to boost your omega 3 power
A few simple changes can really boost the anti-inflammatory capacity of the short chain omega 3s that you are getting in your diet. Eating the right ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 is important. It is thought that we should aim for a ratio between 4:1 and 1:1 of omega 6 to omega 3. However, due to excessive use of omega 6-rich vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, soya oil in both domestic kitchen and industrial food processing, the western diet is now very high in omega 6. It is estimated that most people consume a ratio of around 20:1, or more.
So if we are eating fish twice per week and enjoying some nuts and seeds, rather than increasing the omega 3 to improve the ratio, we can instead reduce intake of omega 6.
By simply swapping omega 6-rich oils in your diet (such as vegetable, sunflower, soya oil) with oils that are higher in omega 9 fatty acids (olive oil or rapeseed oil) you can reduce your overall omega 6 intake and therefore greatly improve your omega 6 to 3 ratio.
Next time you are doing your grocery shopping, go for olive or coconut oil instead. Its that simple. Coconut oil is especially good for those times you want to fry at higher temperatures as it doesn't get oxidised as easily from the heat as olive oil.
For salad dressings use extra virgin olive oil
For low temperature cooking try light olive oil or rapeseed oil
High temperature frying, try coconut oil
Try not to use the following omega 6 rich oils: Sunflower oil, safflower oil, soya oil, vegetable oil - but don't worry, there is still some omega 6 in olive and rapeseed oil so you'll still be getting enough. Snack on nuts and seeds and you'll be doing great!
Make this easy switch and start improving your 6:3 ratio today!
Why does the ratio matter?
…for those of you who want to know ‘why’
Our immune system converts omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids into prostaglandins. These are hormone-like signalling molecules that promote or inhibit the inflammatory response within each cell of the body. Plenty of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins result in lower systemic inflammation. The illustration below outlines this process.
If there is an excess of omega 6 in the body then this results in more Leukotrienes and Series 2 prostaglandins being produced – both of which are pro-inflammatory. Less omega 6 means that enzymes are then able to convert more of the omega 3 into anti-inflammatory Series 3 prostaglandins. Great news!
Small but meaningful changes
A healthy diet is about making small changes which each provide the body with something that it needs to work a little bit better. Give your body what it needs and you'll have a 'well-oiled machine' that will keep running for many years to come.
* large oily fish such as tuna, marlin and swordfish should be avoided as these fish contain high levels of mercury and PCB. Pregnant women should limit oily fish to twice per week. Key Nutrition supports sustainable fishing and recommends our clients check out FishOnline.