Monday, January 10, 2011

Improving our diet with more Omega-3

Researchers are pointing to the lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the average American diet as one of  the primary causes of the growing obesity epidemic.  Americans’ diet of processed and fast food and changes in what livestock are fed has resulted in an absence of  omega-3s. Researchers are linking cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other chronic diseases to low levels of this essential fatty acid.

We have been told to stay away from unhealthy saturated fats and eat foods with healthy omega-6 and omega-3 unsaturated fats. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are used to build the membrane of our cells.   Omega-3s make our cell membranes soft, supple  and conduct cell to cell signals well. They also help produce an enzyme that destroys cancer cells.

It turns out we need to eat an equal amount (or at least close to equal amount) of omega-3s and omega-6s to create healthy cell membranes.  Cell membranes made without omega-3s are brittle and inhibit water molecules from passing through them. They are prone to having cholesterol stick to their surface, increase clot formation, and are  being blamed for the formation of arteriosclerosis.

While sources of omega-6s are plentiful in vegetable oils and nuts, getting an equal amount of omega-3s can be a challenge. Beef, cheese, eggs and butter used to have omega-3s, but when corn feed was substituted for omega-3 rich grass feed the omega-3 content in these foods disappeared.  Many of the healthy unsaturated oils have substantially more omega 6s than omega-3s, making it impossible for many Americans to get an equal ratio. A tablespoon of olive oil has 102 mg of omega-3s and 1318 mg of omega-6 and  three grams of walnuts has 262 mg  of omega-3s and 1012 mg of omega-6s. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, basil, and grape leaves have high percentages of omega-3s, but the amounts are small in a serving (1/2 cup of spinach has only 350 mg of omega-3s) so  you would have to eat huge amounts to make up for the excessive omega-6s in even one tablespoon of vegetable oil. The average ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in the US diet is 25 to 1.  Less than 40% of Americans are getting enough omega-3s and over 25% have no trace at all of omega-3 in their blood.

These recent discoveries about the need for a balanced ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s have motivated us to modify our diet with foods that have equal or more omega-3s. Some of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, which has 600 mg of omega-3s and only 219 mg of omega-6s in an ounce. Flax seed has a higher percentage of omega-3s and flax seed oil is even better with one tablespoon containing  7196 mg of omega-3s and 1715 mg of omega-6s.  We have added flax seed to our diet and continue to eat a meal of grass-fed Hawaiian beef or salmon daily.  Grass-fed beef, which fortunately is affordable and plentiful on the island of Hawaii, has an almost equal ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s.

We are  trying to understand the new findings about food and adjust our diet to see if it improves our health.  We have been doing this three years now and so far, every year we have lost fat and been able to exercise more.  We are living at a time when research about food and health is making a lot progress and we hope to find the right mix of foods to live a healthy life in our old age.

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