In the past taking Omega 3 supplements was unnecessary
Nowadays just about everybody has heard about the health benefits of taking Omega 3 supplements, or eating more foods that contain Omega 3 essential fatty acids. If you are not yet fully conversant with the health benefits from increasing your intake of essential fatty acids then spend some time reading our website.
But today we wanted to do a comparison between the benefits of taking high quality Omega 3 supplements and eating foods that contain Omega 3. And in particular the essential fatty acids DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid).
Fish, and in particular oily fish, offer the richest source of DHA and EPA available. Whilst in the past our diet was reasonably high in fish over the last century or so our reliance on fish in our diet has dropped dramatically. As a result most of us are now deficient in the important essential fatty acids DHA and EPA found in fish oil.
However whilst fish is the richest source of these Omega 3 fats there are other sources as well. There are foods that you and I eat regularly, perhaps even daily, which are also good sources of DHA in particular. Two of these are beef and eggs, so today we wanted to discuss whether you are better taking Omega 3 supplements then you are eating beef or eggs, or some other plant based foods.
Firstly we should mention that there is also an essential fatty acid fat called Omega 6. Whilst important to our health our average consumption of Omega 6 has increased dramatically in the last few decades. It is considered that our Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio (in other words the amount of Omega 6 consumed compared to the amount of Omega 3) was somewhere around 1 to 1. In other words we ate roughly as much Omega 6 as Omega 3.
It is now considered that, whilst not totally clear, our average ratio will be somewhere around 20 to 1, or thereabouts. In other words we are now eating way more 6 than before, and much less 3. This change in the ratio of our intake of essential fatty acids is one of the major reasons postulated for the increase in the incidence of so many lifestyle related diseases that so many of us seem to suffer from in the last few decades.
Now let’s consider 3 sources of essential fatty acids that we consume as food.
Beef used to be high in Omega 3. That’s because animals that ate grass are consuming Omega 3 fats, because these are present in grass. In fact this is the same reason why fish are high in these important fatty acids, because they eat seagrasses that contain them. Or at least they eat other fish that have eaten the seagrass.
And grass fed beef is still a good source of healthy essential fatty acids. The problem is that most of our beef is now no longer raised on grass. It is in fact grain fed, commonly on corn, and we are now eating primarily grain fed beef.
Corn is extremely high in Omega 6 and very low in 3. Because our beef cattle are now being raised on corn and other grains, and they are no longer eating much, if any, grass, so beef is now a rich source of Omega 6, of which we eat too much, and a poor source of Omega 3, of which we eat too little. In fact our grain fed beef is now exacerbating the problem.
Eggs were also, in the past, an excellent source of healthy fatty acids. However for similar reasons eggs are now no longer a good source of Omega 3. Again it comes down to feeding. A hundred years ago our chickens spent their day roaming around eating grass and insects. (Yes chickens really do eat grass, just watch one for a while.)
And from their diet, and in particular grass, they were able to produce highly nutritious eggs. However just like cattle, chickens too are now grain fed. Just like cattle it’s all about modern feedlot production, and feeding grain is the easiest way.
So as you can see we are getting very little of those good fats from 2 sources which were very important in our diet in the past, beef and eggs.
3. Flax seed oil.
Flax seed oil is commonly promoted as an excellent vegetarian source of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. However the essential fatty acids found in flax seeds, as well as many other foods commonly promoted as rich in essential fatty acids such as many other seeds, nuts and leafy vegetables, is different to the important Omega 3 fats, namely DHA and EPA.
Most plant-based sources actually contain ALA, and evidence is that this is a way less useful to our health than DHA or EPA. In fact it’s advantages to our health stem from the fact that ALA can be converted into DHA in our bodies, but only a small percentage is actually converted.
And so for this reason plant-based ALA is not nearly as effective.
As you can see our traditional food based sources of essential fatty acids have changed. We don’t eat much fish and our beef and eggs in particular are now higher in 6 and lower in 3. Hence our ratio of intake has gone from healthy to unhealthy, and taking fish oil supplements has become widespread.
Fish oil supplements don’t, or shouldn’t, contain any Omega 6 fats at all. The best fish oil supplements certainly don’t.
If you have your own farm, raise your own cattle and chickens and raise them on grass you may well be getting much more good fats in your diet than the rest of us. Unfortunately very few of us are in this lucky situation.
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