Omega 3's: It's not just fish!

March 6, 2008 6:03:21 PM PST
There are female-friendly fats found in more than just fish. Surprisingly, we need to eat more, not less, of this group of nutrients called the Omega 3 fatty acids. Here to explain is the author of The Queen of Fats, Susan Allport.

Susan Allport is the author of The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them.

To purchase the book on Amazon: The Queen of Fats

Ten Easy Steps for greening your tissues and food supply, by Susan Allport:

  1. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Green vegetables are full of ALA, the parent omega-3, and all fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that protect fats against oxidation. To bulk up on omega-3s, you should eat the vegetables you enjoy - and lots of them.

  2. Avoid oils in which omega-6s greatly outnumber omega-3s, namely safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, peanut, and soybean oils. Use more olive, walnut, flaxseed, and canola oil. It's even okay to use small amounts of butter, which has large amounts of saturated fats and small amounts of polyunsaturated fats, but a wholesome ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s.

  3. Eat a wide variety of fish. Include lean fish such as cod, halibut, and trout in your diet as well as fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. Because all fish live in water and require more flexibility (looseness) in their membranes than do land animals, all fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish have more because they store their excess fat in their bellies, not their livers, as do lean fish like cod. Eating a wide diversity of fish should help prevent the over fishing of certain species and protect us against toxins that accumulate in certain fish.

  4. Eat free-range or omega-3 enriched eggs. Most grocery stores carry these - look for the words omega-3s or DHA on the carton and choose brands that come as close to 300mg omega-3/egg (or 100mg DHA/egg) as your pocketbook will allow. These eggs, laid by chickens that have been fed a diet rich in flaxseed, fish meal, and/or algae and other greens, provide one of the easiest ways of adding omega-3s to Western diets. They're easy to produce and less expensive than many other foods high in omega-3s. If the chickens are fed something other than fish meal, they're also free of the contaminants that can be found in fish. By the way, all eggs used to be omega-3 enriched eggs when the chickens that laid them foraged for a living, scratching and pecking in backyards and farms for greens and bugs.

  5. Eat grass-fed or free-range chicken, lamb, beef, bison, and pork whenever you can. Just as all our eggs used to be omega-3 enriched, so were all our meats and milk products -- when our animals were free range and ate many more grasses and other greens than they did grains. You can find grass-fed meats in some grocery stores and many farmers' markets - or by searching online.

  6. Try to include a source of omega-3s in every meal. The omega-3s can come from fish, greens, omega-3 enriched eggs, as well as cereals containing flaxseed. Other convenient sources of omega-3s are Smart Balance omega-3 peanut butter (and other Smart Balance products), soy and other beans, and some nuts: walnuts, notably, with lesser amounts in beechnuts, Brazil nuts and chestnuts. Most of these omega-3 rich ingredients can be added to salads, yogurts, cheeses, sauces and so on. The nuts can be eaten as a snack (with or without raisins and chocolate chips). Homemade baked goods can be a great source of omega-3s, especially if you add liberal amounts of walnuts, use omega-3-enriched eggs, and replace some of the butter with canola oil. Although omega-3s can be taken in pill form (see below), like most nutrients, they are probably better absorbed from foods than pills.

  7. Avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. This step is important not only because of the reduced omega-3 content of these oils but also because of their concentration of trans fats. Trans fats compete with omega-3s for positions in cell membranes, and they may have adverse effects of their own, though it is difficult to distinguish between the two. Avoiding these oils is fairly easy to do with foods bought in a grocery store, since producers are required to list them as ingredients on food labels. In restaurants, choose foods that are freshly prepared and take a pass on those that are packaged or fried.

  8. Take special precautions if you are pregnant or a woman of reproductive age. Follow the guidelines of the FDA and local agencies on fish consumption and look for fish that have tested negative for mercury and PCBs. Most importantly, supplement your diet with other sources of omega-3s and keep your intake of omega-6s at healthy levels. The benefits will be enormous, not only for your baby, but for yourself, since low maternal concentrations of DHA have been linked to an increased risk of postpartum depression. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to protect against preterm delivery and low birth weight. After giving birth, breast feed your baby if at all possible since no infant formula on the market matches the breast milk of a well-nourished mother.

  9. Use supplements carefully. If you do take omega-3 supplements, avoid those that supply all the essential fatty acids, omega-3s and omega-6s. Omega-6s are essential, as we know, but we already have too many of them in our foods. We don't need to take any more. So avoid supplements (and foods) with phrases such as high omega, complete omegas, complete EFA, ultimate omegas, or omega balance in their names as they will undoubtedly include oils rich in omega-6s. If you take fish oil, look for products that are of pharmaceutical grade or are molecularly distilled, thus ensuring that they will be free of metals and other toxins. Also, take fish oil rather than cod liver oil, as the latter contains significant amounts of vitamin A and can be harmful in excess. Keep your fish oil and flax oil in a cool, dark place and throw out any oil that smells bad. If it smells bad, it is bad. Taking oxidized oil is worse than taking no oil at all.

  10. Maintain a healthy weight by getting the exercise and calories you need. Excess calories and weight put a strain on the entire body, including its ability to transport and store fats.

Finally, don't go overboard with this or any diet. You need omega-6s in your diet, just not in the great quantities that most of us are currently getting. Balance is the key to this and every other aspect of life. By taking these ten easy steps, you can be sure you will be changing the balance of fats in your tissues -- and confident that health benefits will follow. Omega-3s have been displaced by the large amounts of omega-6s in our diet. These ten, simple steps will put those speedy leaf fats back where they belong.

Tips for Children by Susan Allport:
You've heard of No Child Left Behind. Here are ten foods that every American child* should have to keep from being left behind**, ten foods that will provide a better balance of Omega-6s and Omega-3s in a child's brain - and every other tissue in his or her growing body. The first food on the list is for infants; the rest are for older children.

  1. Breast milk - for many reasons, including the fact that no formula matches breast milk in terms of the essential fats.
  2. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables - for many reasons too, including the fact that green leaves are the source of all omega-3s.
  3. A whole grain cereal with no added fat and very little sugar to which children can add their own sweetener (if desired) and fruit. My current favorite is Nature's Path Flax Plus (which also provides 500mg of omega-3s/serving). Oatmeal; cream of wheat; cheerios; Skinner's raisin bran; rice, corn, and wheat chex; shredded wheat; wheat puffs; and grape nuts are all good.
  4. Omega-3 enriched eggs (for meals and for puddings and baked goods).
  5. Smart Balance Peanut Butter or homemade walnut butter (for sandwiches and snacks).
  6. Healthy breads and crackers in the home, i.e., breads (whole grain or white, whatever the child prefers) with no added fat and crackers made with fats that have a healthy balance of omega-6s and 3s, fats such as canola oil.
  7. A healthy cooking oil in the home: canola oil or the Smart Balance blend. Olive oil and butter should be used on those foods (toast, salads, baked potatoes, sautéing) that specifically call for them.
  8. Walnuts (with or without raisins and chocolate chips) for snacks and in salads, cakes, breads, etc.
  9. A good source of fish, and 3 or 4 fish recipes that the child loves. If you don't already have such a source, I recommend Vital Choice for their pure, uncontaminated (and sustainably-harvested) salmon, shrimp, scallops, sardines, tuna, and halibut.
  10. Home-baked goods and other desserts containing healthy amounts of omega-3s, i.e., brownies, cookies, walnut cakes, and zucchini bread made with omega-3 enriched eggs, canola oil and walnuts.

* I say this list is for American children because I'm only familiar with the foods in the American marketplace.
**Unless, of course, a child is allergic to any of these foods.