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Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids & Good Quality Fats

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids & Good Quality Fats brain health, naturopath Kirily Thomas

Approximately 60% of your brain consists of the same fats that create all the cell membranes in your body. So, good quality fats are a must – if your diet is made up of lesser quality fats, your brain can only make low-quality nerve cell membranes that don’t function well, but if your diet provides the essential, good fats, your brain cells can manufacture higher-quality nerve cell membranes, which will improve their function. Let’s talk more about why omega-3 essential fatty acids & good quality fats are so important!

It’s not only the brain that needs essential fatty acids, as they are crucial for the cells in our body to form the cells’ protective lipid bilayer. Fats also form the backbone for many hormones, are important to keep our skin nourished and supple and are also needed for absorption of the fat soluble nutrients Vit A, D, E & K; 

Essential fatty acids cannot be manufactured by your body so must come from the foods you eat (or supplements), hence why they are referred to as “essential”. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are important for the health of our brain and cells and are also anti-inflammatory – there is strong evidence that shows that low intake of omega-3 fatty acids may cause increasing levels of depression/low mood and may exacerbate any inflammation. The two major forms of omega-3 essential fatty acids used by the body are EPA and DHA:

  • DHA – predominant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain (10-20% of total brain fatty acids). It is neuroprotective (protects the nerve cells) and reduces inflammation.
  • EPA – only makes up a small amount of the brain fatty acids, however there is plenty of evidence of beneficial effects on depressive behaviour. In fact to have a positive impact on the health of the brain and to reduce depressive behaviour, EPA needs to be taken so it is in a concentration that is 60% or more than DHA in at least a total 2g per day dose (1). EPA is also protective to the heart and is anti-inflammatory.
  • If you like fish, and are not vegetarian/vegan, fish can be eaten a couple of times a week to help boost EPA/DHA – especially salmon (wild caught), tuna, rainbow trout, sardines and mackerel, which are particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • If you purchase tinned fish, it is preferable that you choose a brand that is packed in olive oil as it will help preserve the omega-3 fats and it’s a good quality fat in itself.
  • Both EPA and DHA are important for the skin.

How do vegan/vegetarians get Omega 3?

Flaxseeds/flaxseed oil, walnuts and chia seeds are great plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. However, it is important to note that good levels of zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B3 are required for the body to properly convert the plant-based omega-3 into the form of EPA and DHA that can be used by the body – if you are deficient in these nutrients conversion may be poor. Flaxseed oil is lovely drizzled on salads or blended into a smoothie – it can’t be heated, so it needs to be used cold and kept in the fridge.

Sources of good quality fats

  • Extra virgin olive oil, olives – olive oil provides wonderful health benefits, and is the top choice for oil to use in your cooking. Please see my previous blog here for more information. 
  • Avocado/avocado oil and macadamias/macadamia oil are good choices as they are high in monounsaturated fats.
  • Vegetable oils such as canola or sunflower oil are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause inflammation in the body if it’s not in balance with the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Raw, unsalted nuts and seeds can also be beneficial, including walnuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), almonds, sunflower seeds. A small handful is all that is required or  you could also consider having nut butter as well e.g. ABC spread which is ground almonds, brazil nuts and cashews.
  • Virgin coconut oil – a highly stable oil, as it’s a saturated fat, so can be used in moderation during high heat cooking like stir-frying and roasting. However, unlike other saturated fats, about 2/3 is made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCT) which are difficult for the body to store. Thus, the MCTs are generally used as an immediate energy source by the body. Coconut oil also contains high amounts of Lauric acid (a type of MCT), which may be beneficial to the body’s immune system. However, please use coconut oil in moderation, as you can still over-indulge, and because it is a saturated fat it can feed populations of pro-inflammatory gut bacteria like Bilophila spp. if you have an overgrowth (extra virgin olive oil is always the best choice to support our beneficial microbes).

How to get more Omega 3 and Good Quality Fats into your diet?

  • Make salad dressings with olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado or macadamia oil and use on your salads or drizzled on vegetables.
  • Add a handful of nuts or seeds to your salads or sprinkled on porridge or fruit and yoghurt or just have as a snack.
  • Make these Flaxseed, Banana and Date Muffins!
  • Use avocado as a spread on your bread or add to salads.
  • Make Chia Puddings for breakfast or snacking.
  • Add sardines in olive oil to a tomato based pasta sauce for an easy dinner.
  • Make a smoothie with flaxseed oil.
  • Try my Mushroom Burgers which include walnuts for extra nutrients.
  • Make bliss balls with walnuts, chia seeds, coconut oil and/or nut butters.

References

  1. Sublette ME, Ellis SP, Geant AL, Mann JJ. Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in clinical trials in depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 2011 Dec;72(12):1577-84. doi: 10.4088/JCP.10m06634. Epub 2011 Sep 6. PMID: 21939614; PMCID: PMC3534764.

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