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Understanding dietary fatty acids – it’s as easy as omega 3,6 & 9

Fatty Acids (FA) are some of the most potent inflammatory mediators – in other words, they have the capability to signal messengers that either switch your immune system ‘on’ or ‘off’.

There are 3 different types of omega fatty acids – 3, 6 & 9. Unlike omega 9; our bodies cannot make omega 3 & 6, meaning that we need to get them from foods or supplements.

Mega confusion clarified

Both omega-6 and omega-3 essential FAs are essential for health, and participate in the body’s metabolism and building of cellular structures. 

In general, omega-6 fats tend to promote inflammation, and contribute to modern diseases such as heart disease, autoimmune diseases or gut issues (like Inflammatory Bowel Disease – IBD). Omega-3 fats have the opposite effect: they’re anti-inflammatory, relax the blood vessels, and protect against blood cells aggregating together into clots.

But, why then if omega-6 fatty acids are essential, can they be so detrimental to our health?

Well, as with many things in life, too much of anything is never good and this is especially true when it comes to omega-6 fatty acids. It’s all about balance.

When consumed in excess, omega-6 fatty acids can advance the progression of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and induce inflammatory signalling, especially when they aren’t balanced out by their counterpart, omega-3.

The Omega 6: Omega 3 Shift:

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors are thought to have consumed equal amounts of omega-6s and omega-3s, but today’s diets have been estimated to contain 14-25 times as much omega-6 as omega-3 fat. Oh my Omega! That’s a real problem.

Omega-6 fats are readily available from the so-called more ‘inflammatory foods’ like most plant oils such as corn, safflower, soy, and sunflower oils; in processed foods, baked goods, salad dressings, commercial snacks and fried foods.

Omega-3 fats are richest in deep-water fish and their oils, walnuts and walnut oil, flax seeds and flax seed oil.

So, where are you sitting on the omega-spectrum?

At TASH 360, your omega 6:omega 3 ratio is important to us – and with our unique gut-mind-skin genetic test, we can tell you which omega-3 fats you’re able to process best. Come in and visit our nutritionist today.

Hook, Line & Sinker: Get to know your fish with @head.over.health

So you’ve just read that the correct ratio of omega 6:omega 3 intake is essential for reducing chronic inflammation in the body. When looking at dietary sources of omega 3, we can consider both animal-derived sources (containing EPA & DHA fatty acids) and fatty acids (called ALA) from plant-based foods.

Now, ALA needs to be converted to EPA & DHA in the body before we can benefit from it, and not all of us have the ability to do so very effectively (hence, we like to perform genetic testing at TASH360 to see who the ‘strugglers’ are). In other words; you may not benefit from chia, flax or walnuts as much as your best friend does. Whereas, EPA & DHA from fish are already in their ‘active’ forms, and can work on modulating your immune system very soon after consumption!

For those concerned about the 1) health and 2) environmental impacts of eating fish, here are some useful tips:

  1. Not all fish are created equal, and in the deep blue sea, smaller fish are lower in contaminants. Think about it: fish ‘pick up’ the toxins that we dump into the ocean; larger fish are higher up on the food chain, and harbour higher concentrations of toxins overtime as they feed on smaller, ‘contaminated’ fish. Toxins may include petrochemicals, dioxins, furans, and heavy metals such as mercury. Farm-raised seafood is also at risk for contamination, may contain antibiotics and have lower omega-3 levels due to poor-quality feed.
  2. Thank you to the South African Seafood Initiative (SASSI) for helping us make sustainable choices. SASSI encourages us to choose fish from the most well-managed populations, or from those species that can handle the current fishing pressure.

Generally, fish lower in mercury include anchovies, sardines and wild-caught salmon. Currently, fish on SASSI’s green list are anchovies, hake (SA demersal longline), king & queen mackerel, sardines, yellowtail and hottentot.

THE WINNERS – the fish that gets green on both health and environmental fronts – are anchovies & sardines!

Lastly, you be a Wise Fisherman

Ask questions – know where your fish comes from. Remember—while there are plenty of fish in the sea, not all of them belong on your plate.

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