Following last week’s post about dietary fats, I decided to start with the better of the bunch: Unsaturated Fats.
Unsaturated fats are unique due to their molecular structure. They are less dense and they will often be a softer or liquid state when at room temperature. A couple of examples would be olive oil and natural peanut butter. That is the big difference between the processed stuff that you can keep in your cupboard and the natural product that you have to keep in your fridge. When the natural version is left out, the oil in it liquifies, as unsaturated fats do at room temperature.
These fats are generally considered to be the ‘healthy fats’ and break into two categories: polyunsaturated (Omega-3, -6, an -9) and monounsaturated. They are considered healthy since they provide a lot of good benefits to a variety of areas on the body. Some of these areas are cholesterol, inflammation, metabolism, and blood.
Polyunsaturated fats are the best of the unsaturated fats and can be found in oils: canola, hemp, fish, flax, and Omega 3/6 supplements. Monounsaturated fats follow as the second best and are most commonly found in almonds, olive oil, peanuts, and avacado.
The Omegas: 3 & 6
Omega-3 and Omega-6 are two polyunsaturated fats that our body uses to balance itself. The natural ratio we were meant to use is 1 Omega-3 to 1 Omega-6 (1:1). Unfortunately, as society has shifted to more processed, less natural methods of producing our food, the balance is proportionately out of whack. The majority of Omega-3 sources are wild animals and plants. Processed meats and meats from animals that are caged or factory-bred generally have a lot of Omega-6 in them from supplements among other sources.
This has led to a ratio of about 1:20-30 (or more) in the average person. Ideally, shifting it down to a 1:1-4 ratio would drastically improve the well-being of many people. While Omega-6 is a good fat, like any other macronutrient, you can have too much and too much Omega-6 can have negative effects on the body such as inflammation, blood clots, smaller blood veins, and joint pain. Omega-3s act as a counterbalance to these issues, which is why the 1:1 ideal ratio works so well.
Picture your body as having tons of little fingers and their sole purpose is to connect to Omega fats, be it Omega-6 or Omega-3. The more Omega-3s you make available to those fingers, the less there are available for Omega-6s to latch onto. You have a finite amount of ‘fingers’ for your body to use, so you want to give it the best shot possible at getting those Omega-3s, right?
Omega-3s & Where to find them
The top 3 types of Omega-3s are ALA, EPA, and DHA. EPA and DHA are the fats you will find most often infor supplementation in the form of pills or liquids. These 2 are found in fish, fish oil, or algae, whereas ALA is found in walnuts, flax, and chia seeds.
Some of the reasons for increasing your EPA and DHA intake are:
- reduces likelihood of blood clots
- increases metabolism
- increases lean muscle mass gains (lean muscle burns fat, so by extension it also helps burn fat)
- increases cognitive, specifically memory, function
- reduces inflammation and joint pain
- decreases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers
- lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and increases HDL (good cholesterol)
So now you’ve seen the bonuses, you want to know how much to take and how to do it, right?
The average person simply does not eat enough fish (or algae, bleh) to meet the recommended minimum intake of Omega-3, nor should we, as eating that much fish can lead to other issues such as increased exposure to mercury and other toxins due to the processing of fish. Others are simply allergic or strongly disgusted by fish (that’s my category!). So how do we do it?
Supplementation. Pill or liquid, either works. Pills can vary in size and quantity of fish oil, but most have around 900-1000mg per pill. Most liquid forms have about 3400mg per 15ml (a tablespoon). The recommendation currently is that the average, not overly active person should be getting 2-3g per day to maintain general every day health. If you’re active, especially if you do something like running or join-intense activities), definitely consider doubling or tripling that to anywhere in 3-10g/day. It helps with cardiovascular strength as well as joint difficulties.
That’s a lot of pills. Keep in mind, even if it just says Omega-3 or some other name, almost always it has fish oil in it. This is very important for those who are allergic to fish. Always read the ingredient labels carefully. If you don’t like the taste of fish (and yes, the fish pills will leave slight fishy burp taste sometimes), try the flavoured liquids out there. I have one that tastes great and not like fish at all, though all the Omega-3s in it come from fish oil. Another pill trick is to freeze them. This didn’t work for me, it just delayed the fishy burps, but you may find it works well for you. Ideally, you should be taking your fish oil with food, whenever possible.
As a final note on fish oil: A study was done on the effect of fish oil supplementation and exercise for an average, non-athletic person. When combined with moderate exercise, 45 minutes a session, three times a week, the participants who supplemented with fish oil (6g/day) saw an average decrease in body fat by 5% over the span of 3 months.