Omegas are definitely one of my favorite topics, so I got a bit carried away with writing, and we decided to divide the article into two parts.
Hop aboard sailer, the SS Minnow is setting sail to Omegaville.
Omega-three fatty acids are called essential for a reason. They are as important and needed as your vitamins and minerals. Yet, for some reason, they are not treated as such. At the doctor's office, you may be checked for vitamin D, iron, or B12 deficiency, but almost never for omega-three. In the rare cases it is tested, often the wrong test is given. However, you can actually get an at-home finger stick test to accurately determine your levels of omega-three and other fatty acids, good and bad.
It is incredibly unfortunate that proper testing is not frequently done because the dangers of not getting enough omega-three and too much omega-six have very big implications for our current and future health.
Omega-three fatty acids have a lot of important functions in your body:
They are key to the cell structure in every cell wall in your body.
Your eyes and brain need plenty of them in order to function properly.
They are a source of energy that helps to keep your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system functioning properly.
They are needed for the production of resolvins, a compound that helps to resolve inflammatory issues that arise in the body.
They help to reduce platelet stickiness which helps to reduce the risk of blood clots.
They help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
They help to improve blood flow.
They help to reduce stiffness in the joints.
Supports healthy red blood cells.
They help to reduce triglyceride levels.
They help to reduce oxidized cholesterol.
They help to improve arterial flexibility.
And much, much more!
Seeing how important they are, it may shock you to learn that almost no one is getting enough omega-three in their diet, and the vast majority of the population is incredibly deficient. This issue does not get nearly the attention it deserves.
So it’s time to get that fixed.
The first step is to reduce your intake of omega-six (linoleic acid). The more omega-six you eat, the more omega-three you need to balance it out.
Too much omega-six, which leads to a poor omega-six to omega-3 ratio, contributes to a host of health issues:
Increased oxidized LDL cholesterol - the actual bad cholesterol.
And a lot more.
Too much omega-six and not enough omega-three makes our health worse in almost every way. Reducing your omega-six intake is just as important as increasing your omega-three intake. It is a balanced ratio of omega-six to omega-three that is most important, not getting a specific amount of omega-three.
As with all things, balance is key.
Nearly everyone eats too much omega-six, that’s right, even you. It’s hard to avoid because it’s in so many foods. The good news is that a few simple changes can easily and dramatically reduce your intake.
First up, eliminate vegetable and seed oils, yes, even the ones from the health food store, from your diet. These are by far the largest sources of omega-six.
Here is a list of vegetable and seed oils:
Canola oil (More like con-ola, am I right? I'll see myself out.)
Fake butter spreads - Yes, even the ones from the health food store. We have never found a low omega-six spread. If you know of one, please let us know.
While palm oil may not be high in omega six, it is the worst food from an environmental standpoint, and massive amounts of slavery and suffering are involved in its production, so we recommend avoiding it.
They are also found in a lot of processed foods like chips, cookies, and crackers. So read the ingredients carefully and make sure none of these oils are present.
There are some beneficial omega-six fats, such as GLA (found in evening primrose oil and borage oil) and CLA, but those are found in very small amounts and very different than linoleic acid. They are not the problem.
Seed and vegetable oils are the worst foods you can eat, worse than high fructose corn syrup, worse than sugar, and worse than any other foods I can think of. There is no single greater step you can take for your health than to eliminate them.
So what should you use instead?
For salad dressings and finishing foods, some good extra virgin olive oil is always a great choice. There is one caveat, though, most olive oil is adulterated with seed oils, oxidized, or low in polyphenols. It is important to get the real thing so you are not adding more omega-six to your diet. If you want to learn more about this, check out this book.
Look for olive oils with this seal to know you are getting a good one:
You can view many of the certified oils here.
You can see our favorite olive oil here.
For baking, grass-fed butter is always great.
For a shortening replacement, pastured lard is great.
For day-to-day cooking, grass-fed ghee is our go-to. It’s delicious, rich in fat-soluble vitamins, and cooks like a champ.
Grass-fed Tallow is great when you want to add some beefy flavor to a dish. For example, adding a spoonful or two to a beef and barley soup takes it to the next level.
Coconut oil is a great choice for stir-fries. Just make sure you are getting ethically sourced coconut oil because a lot of coconut oil is produced using slave labor. You can read more about it here.
Just because a coconut oil product says it is raw or cold-pressed does not mean that it actually is.
The next step on our reducing omega-six journey is to replace your grain-fed meat, dairy, and eggs with grass-fed and pastured versions. Grass-fed meat has much higher levels of omega-three and lower levels of omega-six. Eatwild.com is a great website for finding grass-fed meat, eggs, and dairy products near you.
Now that we have decreased the omega-six in our diet, it’s time to get more omega-three.
According to every major medical and scientific organization, whole foods are the best way to get your omega-three.
The best source of omega-three is wild-caught fish and shellfish. With pollution in the oceans and the rapid depletion of fish stocks, a lot of people are rightfully concerned about making sure their seafood is sustainable and clean. So we wanted to share some great places to get seafood from that are environmentally friendly and free of high levels of contaminants.
Don’t sleep on canned fish. Canned sardines with the skin and bones are a great source of omega-three and calcium. They are incredibly affordable and sustainable. Just make sure they are not packed in vegetable oil. Canned salmon is often overlooked. It is rich in omega-three, vitamin D, and if you get the kind with the bones, lots of very absorbable calcium. It makes a great substitute for canned tuna.
While they are not well known, tinned cod livers are a great way to get omega-three. They have a smooth creamy taste and also have lots of vitamins A and D. Think of them as a poor man's foie gras.
One of our favorite omega-three foods is fish roe. Delicious, easy to prepare, and packed full of omega-three, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K2 (as MK-4), choline, and so much more. They are such an amazing and underutilized food. Check out our blog article to learn more.
Mercury is a concern a lot of people rightfully have with fish. Check out the NRDC wallet card, to choose fish with low mercury risk.
What about farmed fish? We recommend avoiding farmed fish for a variety of reasons.
Higher in omega-six and lower in omega-three than wild-caught fish.
The fish are often treated with antibiotics because of the poor conditions many of them are raised in. Just like we don’t want our meat pumped full of antibiotics, we do not want our fish given lots of them. This increases the problem of antibiotic resistance.
Farmed salmon tend to be higher in PCBs and dioxins than wild salmon.
Farmed fish tend to be lower in protein than wild fish.
It is not more sustainable. It takes several pounds of wild small fish to make one pound of farmed salmon because the fish chow the salmon are fed is partly made of small wild fish.
Don't worry if seafood isn't for you; there are lots of other great foods rich in omega-three.
Pastured eggs are a great source of omega-three. They are rich in all kinds of other beneficial nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin E, choline, and so much more. Your local farmer is the best source of these eggs. Check out Eatwild.com to find a source near you, or just look for some chickens running around. If you don’t have one near you, this scorecard is a great way to help you choose the right eggs.
100% Grass-fed and grass-finished meat is a good source of omega-three. If you replace the grain-fed meat in your diet with it, not only will you be increasing your omega-three intake, but you will be decreasing your omega-six intake! Eatwild.com is a great resource to find a local farmer near you. If you don’t have one near you, here are a few great sources:
Now you might be wondering, "Why I have not included any plant foods on the omega-three foods list?"
Many plant foods contain a fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This is a precursor to the omega-three fatty acids our bodies need, such as EPA/DHA. Our bodies are not great at the conversion process, so only a very small amount of the ALA is converted. In addition, in a diet rich in omega-six, which nearly everyone has, the already low rate of conversion is reduced much further. So they are not really a good source of omega-three.
However, the biggest reason that we do not recommend plant foods, such as flax, hemp, and chia as a source of omega-three is that they have huge amounts of omega-six. So for a very small amount of omega-three you would be getting huge amounts of additional omega-six, which you do not need. So definitely skip the flax oil.
Hopefully, this post has inspired you to reduce your omega-six intake and get rid of those nasty vegetable and seed oils!
That's the end of part one, so take a bathroom break, get a snack, and head over to part two to learn all about omega-three supplements.