Yours Essentially, Omega

JAWAHAR NIDAMBOOR

There are two forms of essential fats: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Their balance is vital for optimal health and healthy longevity.

Well, well, well. For many of us who have been working hard to go ‘fat-free’ during the last few years, it would be surprising to know that we are slowly learning that fat is not our foe.

Modern science demonstrates the fact that the true effect of eating certain types of fats is good, and not as harmful as may be the popular opinion. This holds true for omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are evidenced to be an essential part of a healthy diet, and just as important in preventing sickness and disease — especially circulatory disorders.

The drive against fat has had a downbeat social impact, thanks to some well-orchestrated government, health and media blitz on the subject. Take, for instance, the total amount of fat in people’s diets, which decreased from 41 per cent in the early 1960s to 34 per cent at the beginning of this century, in the US alone.

However, with the downward trend, it’s ironical that health actually deteriorated. In fact, Americans, like many others worldwide, are today much fatter than ever before — what with obesity reaching epidemic proportions in adults and kids alike.

You get the idea — the big fat thing, you’ll realise, has been quite simply misinterpreted without taking into account the quality of fats we eat.

FAT BENEFITS

Yes, fats can be good for you. It also needs to be emphasised that fats play several important roles in the body. They are, indeed, the basis of key compounds such as hormones.

Research has shown that eating the ‘right’ fat can promote weight loss in a calorie-controlled environment, such as ours. Put simply, it means that eating a higher percentage of fat is healthy as long as you’re not eating too many calories on the whole.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, US, have shown that the total amount of fat in the diet does not raise the threat of several types of cancers and heart disease, so long as your weight and total calories are right. Their findings imply that the type of fats you actually eat may play a significant role in the development of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

WHAT IS OMEGA-3?

Omega-3 fat is a polyunsaturated fat found in animal and plant sources. It conforms to the summary of a healthy fat. Fatty oils are the building blocks of fat in the diet. There are three types of fatty oils — saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. They vary in their basic chemical structure.

Polyunsaturated fats are more healthy than saturated fats, but like all fats they are high in calories. They should, therefore, be consumed in moderation. Monounsaturated fats are a better choice — when used prudently.

Omega-3 fats are evidenced to be essential — we have to simply eat them because our body cannot produce them on its own. What they do is help drive the ‘engines’ of normal brain, nervous system development and function, immune tasks, blood flow, heart regularity, and healthy skin.

The most active omega-3 fatty acids are known as EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid] and DHA [docosahexaenoic acid]. The two can be directly obtained from marine animals and algae. There is also another vital, but somewhat less active omega-3 fatty acid. It is called alpha-linolenic-acid [ALA]. It is found in flaxseed, canola oil, and walnuts.

OMEGA BENEFITS

Omega-3 fats from fish and plant sources can help prevent heart attack, sudden cardiac death, and certain types of stroke by decreasing blood clots, inconsistent heart rhythms, inflammation and triglyceride levels, while raising HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol levels. Research is now keyed up about its anti-inflammatory properties too. Omega-3 fats, studies suggest, hold the prospect as a useful, effective line of treatment for cancer and autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

You could derive all your omega-3 fats from food sources. How? By eating 3-4 ounce of omega-3-rich fish, two-three times a week. This is adequate and also harmless. What’s more, omega-3-rich fish have been shown to have low or negligible mercury and other heavy metal content, or toxicity.

Yet another good option is eating ground flaxseeds — if you are a vegetarian, which many of us are. Else, it would make sense for us to consider taking a daily fish oil dietary supplement.

The ideal supplemental intake is 500-2,000mg of EPA/DHA per day.

For maximum absorption, it is best to take your fish oil capsule with a meal, along with a daily vitamin E [200 mg] pill, or capsule.