Last week, I discussed the role of omega-6 fatty acids in inflammation. As a recap, eating too much omega-6 fatty acids and too few omega-3 fatty acids increases inflammation. This is bad news for athletes, as well as for everyone’s general health and wellbeing since inflammation is connected to many diseases such as heart disease or Alzheimer’s. Most people are eating way too many omega-6 fatty acids, even when following a healthy diet. Go to my past blog here to find out how to reduce omega-6 fatty acid intake.
If your goal is to reduce inflammation, then equally as important as reducing omega-6 fatty acid intake is increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake. Like omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats so they must be consumed through food or supplemental form. Outside of their role in reducing inflammation, omega-3 fatty acid consumption is linked with lowered risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, lessened depression, some cancer preventions and improved heart health. If you’re pregnant or breastfeed, omega-3 fatty acids are especially important since they are critical for the growing fetus and baby.
To fully understand omega-3 fatty acids, you’ll need to understand the three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, DHA and EPA. Your daily requirements for ALA depend on your age and life stage. For instance, those pregnant or breastfeeding will need slightly more ALA. The body is able to convert some ALA into DHA and EPA, but it doesn’t do this very efficiently. Because of this poor conversion rate, it is highly recommended to include foods that are rich in EPA and DHA in our diet.
So where can we find these different types of omega-3 fatty acids? ALA is found in plant based products such as ground flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts. On the other hand, EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish and seafood such as salmon, herring, oysters or sardines. Eating two servings of fish per week (150 grams) meets our EPA and DHA needs.
If you’re a vegetarian, vegan or just can’t stand the taste of fish, then you’re probably wondering how you can meet your EPA and DHA requirements. As mentioned above, ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, but it does this poorly. You would have to consume a lot of ALA (about 3 tsp of flax oil or 3 tbsp. of ground flaxseed) each day to make enough EPA and DHA. However, many things can negatively influence ALA conversion to EPA and DHA. A diet that is high in omega-6 fatty acids cuts this conversion by about half, doubling the ALA requirements. In these situations, a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement containing EPA and DHA should be considered.
Take home message: eat your omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and promote overall health. Include high food sources of ALA daily. Aim to eat at least two servings of fish per week. If you don’t eat fish, then take a good look at your ALA and omega-6 fatty acid intake and consider taking a daily EPA and DHA containing supplement.
Stay tuned for part 3 of diet and inflammation next week. I will be reviewing 5 things to include in the diet to reduce inflammation. I will soon be transitioning these blogs to a weekly newsletter, so if you would like to receive this straight to your inbox, click here.