"Omega-3 fatty acid" is the new panacea in the alternative health world. People are popping the fish oil right, left, and center. What is it all about? Does it deserve the street cred we're assigning it?
The Scoop on Omega-3
A lego house is made up of legos just as a fat is made up of fatty acids. Fatty acids are these zig-zaggedy molecules made up of carbon molecules and covered with hydrogens. There are different kinds of fatty acids, which means that the length of the carbon chain and the amount of hydrogens the chain is covered with are different.
Our body needs certain kinds of fatty acids to do certain things. Just like you can't use a screwdriver to cut wood, you can't use lauric acid (one type of fatty acid) to do what linoleic acid (fatty acid) is supposed to do.
For the most part, our body can synthesize (break down other fats and make new ones out of them) all of the fatty acids we need, EXCEPT for two of them. Omega-3 and omega-6. The names describe their chemical structure. We call these essential fatty acids, or "EFA"s. Here's a picture of an omega-3 fatty acid (below). Note zig-zaggediness.
Because we can't make them, we have to eat them. Back before the dawn of McPhlegm's (what my father taught me to call McDonalds since a young age), omega-6 was rarer in our diet, and so we ate a ratio of about 1:2 (omega-6 : omega 3). We have a limited capacity to convert omega-3 and omega-6, so any amount of omega-6 that we eat over the 1:2 ratio will cancel out any omega-3 that we eat.
Everyone is flipping out about omega-3 because the standard diet in our country provides a ratio of about 30:1 (omega-6 : omega-3)! As a result, much more omega-6 is converted than omega-3, creating widespread omega-3 deficiency.
Omega-3 is used in positive body functions like lowering blood pressure, decreasing blood clotting, immune regulations, building cell walls, nerve transmissions and allergic responses. Omega-6 (from many vegetable oils and meat) promotes inflammation and clotting. This is why people who have heart disease or have a risk of heart disease are told "eat more omega-3!". Studies show that a host of other conditions can be reduced or prevented by regulating omega-3 consumption.
So does omega-3 deserve the attention we are giving it? YES! Are you being ripped off by products that say "Rich in omega-6"? Yes!
Plant foods that contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids are chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds. Fish are also high in omega-3s. The recipe below is my strategy for filling up on omega-3, which is really tasty.
Omega-3 Strawberry Milkshake
1 whole banana
handful (or two) of frozen strawberries
2 tbsp ground flax seed (whole if you have a vitamix or powerful blender)
2 cups hemp milk (unsweetened)
6-8 drops liquid stevia extract
Put all in blender and blend the heck out of it. Drink it and enjoy.