Clearing up the Whole Omega-3 Confusion

on Apr 27, 2010

Oh my god! It has Omega-3! It must be healthy! Look at all the flax seed! Eat more fish! This whole omega-3 thing is a mess and an unexpected consequence of “broken” food. You’ve probably heard about how we’re supposed to have a not so disproportionate ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and yet we have way too much of the latter, hence creating a business friendly market for the former. Basically, you mostly get these two forms of fatty acids from more green foods for omega-3s and more grain foods for omega-6s. This effect is amplified by eating animal products because what the animals eat matters, A LOT. So much of our livestock, which is naturally inclined to eat greens (especially cows and chicken) are now on grain diets. Oops, factory farming has done it again!

Now you’ve definitely heard that you should eat fish (or fish oil) to get omega-3s and there’s a real simple reason fish are good for it: they eat greens (algae). Oh, except for factory farmed fish where, you guessed it, the omega-3 benefit has vanished. Double oops. The health consequences could be quite substantial. Basically omega-6s cause an inflammatory response in the body while omega-3s do the opposite. Theoretically, the body’s system becomes totally out of whack with an imbalance of fatty acids and we get all sorts of nasty problems, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. And the opposite effect appears for omega-3s, which means food companies are trying to ride this health wave by cramming omega-3s into all sorts of food products. Whether there’s an actual health impact from this is questionable. A better approach, for the wary eater, is to try to keep things balanced. Vegetable oils, found in so many processed foods, are a big culprit (lots of omega-6s). As are factory farmed animal products, including dairy. I’m not saying it’s so bad to have omega-6s; it’s just bad to have so much of it relative to omega-3s. So do try to get more greens in the diet. It’s a big win since green foods (and I mean vegetables) have an incredible array of health benefits.