Updated: Oct 14, 2019
No one would deny that diet and nutrition are a fundamental element of an holistic wellness lifestyle, that can have far reaching effects upon our health and wellbeing.
With much confusing information regarding fats, which ones are good for us and which are not, it's not surprising many turn to pre packaged meals with a colour coded measure of fat content.
We asked Nutritionist and 'Lunchbox Doctor' Jenny Tschiesche to explain why Omega 3 essential fatty acids are vital for health and wellbeing, how we can incorporate them into our diet and maximise their benefits.
Omega 3 fatty acids have become an increasingly important area of health to focus on. Scientific studies continue to reveal the health problems associated with a deficiency. One of the most important new findings is how omega 3 fats link to children's learning skills. Where children are concerned lower levels of DHA have been associated with poor reading, memory and behavioural problems. Furthermore, children with ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia are found to be lower in omega 3 fat’s.
At the same time the scale of the deficiency problem has become apparent. Some quote figures of up to 80% of the UK population as being deficient in omega 3 fatty acids. This blog will help you identify why omega 3 fats are so important, what they are, and where to get them.
WHY ARE OMEGA 3 FATS SO IMPORTANT?
The body can synthesise most of the fats it needs from our diet. However, omega 3 fats are different. They are also known as essential fatty acid‘s. The word essential in nutrition means that the human body requires something for good health but cannot make that something on its own. Therefore, the only way to obtain sufficient omega 3’s is to get them from our food or to supplement. Yet, the standard western diet is almost devoid of this nutrient.
HOW HAVE WE BECOME SO DEFICIENT?
Imagine a day of food starting with a bowl of cereal and milk, lunch consisting of a ham and salad sandwich, yoghurt and a piece of fruit and an evening meal consisting of pasta with chicken and tomato-based sauce. Whilst one might consider that to be a fairly standard diet in the western world what is clear is a lack of omega 3 fats.
WHERE CAN WE FIND OMEGA 3’S?
There are three main types of omega 3 fats used by the body:
ALA - Mostly found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, olive oil and nuts such as walnuts. Once these fats are consumed the body converts ALA into EPA and then into DHA. This is slightly less efficient than consuming omega 3’s as EPA or DHA (see below).
EPA and DHA – mostly found in cold water fish such as salmon, fresh tuna (not tinned, sadly), sardines, halibut, mackerel and herring as well as other seafood such as algae and krill.
In order to obtain sufficient amounts of omega 3 in our diets and those of our families we need to ensure that we include food sources of ALA, EPA, DHA. Some ways of achieving this include:
Serving chia seeds in a smoothie, flaxseeds on porridge or nuts as snacks.
Eating oily fish 2 times per week. Mackerel pate, baked salmon or fishcakes are some family friendly ideas for consuming oily fish.
HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY A DEFICIENCY?
Some of the symptoms of a deficiency include:
- Soft, peeling or brittle nails.
- Attention deficit, dyslexia, dyspraxia, poor concentration and restlessness.
- Depression, anxiety, or mood swings
- Dry eyes
- Dry skin including dandruff
- Stiff joints
- Excessive earwax
- Allergies including hayfever, asthma and eczema
Finally, be careful to get the balance of omega 3’s and omega 6’s right. Too many omega 6’s makes the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA harder. Omega 6’s can be found in a variety of foods, especially processed foods such as fried snacks, cakes, processed meats.
So remember, the key point is that you need to eat a range of omega 3 foods and not too many omega 6 foods to avoid omega 3 deficiency.