Good Fat, Bad Fat: The Facts About Omega-3

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If you ask folks what food group they should avoid, many will answer “fats.” While some fats are considered “bad for you”, there are some that are good for you.

Omega-3 fatty acids tout benefits from reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke to reducing symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Found in flaxseed and other plant-based foods, cold-water fish, and nuts, Omega-3 fatty acids have even been shown to boost your immune system and help protect against an array of illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease.

By now, people are aware of diets that prescribe food rich in Omega-3’s, such as the Mediterranean diet’s fare of walnuts, fruits and vegetables, and fish. Even so, many people are still not getting their recommended daily amount of Omega-3s.

Two active ingredients of Omega-3 in fish are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Surprisingly, the fish does not create EPA and DHA itself. Instead, they are created by marine algae and consumed by the fish—so eating farm raised fish will not reap the same benefits of more expensive wild caught fish.

Improve Cognitive Function
There is a growing evidence base for Omega-3s in improving mood and restoring structural integrity to brain cells critical in performing cognitive functions.

Already well known for their ability to protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, the Omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may be highly effective in preventing and managing depression and cognitive decline, according to a growing body of evidence.2-4

Prevent Strokes
Omega-3s also reduces the negative impact of another essential type of fatty acid known as Omega-6. Found in foods such as eggs, poultry, cereals, vegetable oils, baked goods, and margarine. Omega-6s are also considered essential. They support skin health, lower cholesterol, and help make our blood “sticky,” so it is able to clot. But when Omega-6s aren’t balanced with sufficient amounts of Omega-3s, problems such as clot formation can ensue, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. So for a healthy balance, about 4 parts Omega-3 to 1 part Omega-6 is ideal.

Protect Your Heart
According to the American Heart Association, those looking to protect their hearts should eat a variety of types of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) at least twice a week. Those with heart disease should get 1 gram of Omega-3 (containing both EPA and DHA) per day, preferably from fatty fish. Other sources of Omega-3 include canola oil, broccoli, cantaloupe, kidney beans, spinach, grape leaves, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, and walnuts.

Supplementing
Whole food is more than 90% absorbed by the body, while the body only absorbs about 50% of a supplement. Therefore a diet high in Omega-3s is best. Supplements should be used only after good testing to determine the recommended amount needed for each individual.

A new test is available called the HS-Omega-3 Index Report. This test gives you a comprehensive breakdown of the Omega-3 and Omega-6 levels in your body as well as monosaturated, saturated, and trans fatty acids. Your doctor can use this information to adjust a diet and/or supplement plan that will work best for your body and specific medical needs. FitMed Partners offers this the HS-Omega-3 Index Report, a supplement test and a nutritional assessment.

1. Assisi A, Banzi R, Buonocore C, et al. Fish oil and mental health: the role of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in cognitive development and neurological disorders. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2006 Nov;21(6):319-36.

2. Raeder MB, Steen VM, Vollset SE, Bjelland I. Associations between cod liver oil use and symptoms of depression: The Hordaland Health Study. J Affect Disord. 2006 Dec 18.

3. Frangou S, Lewis M, McCrone P. Efficacy of ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid in bipolar depression: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Br J Psychiatry. 2006 Jan;188:46-50.

4. Peet M, Horrobin DF. A dose-ranging study of the effects of ethyl-eicosapentaenoate in patients with ongoing depression despite apparently adequate treatment with standard drugs. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002 Oct;59(10):913-9.