Doctor’s Tip: Be sure you get enough omega-3
There are healthy and unhealthy fats. Unfortunately, the S.A.D. (standard American diet) contains too little of the former and too much of the latter.
Unhealthy fats include saturated fats, found primarily in animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) but also in coconut and palm products. Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated fats, are found primarily in snack and fried foods. Saturated and trans fats are clearly linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The biochemistry of healthy fats is rather complex, but here’s the simplified version:
There are two “essential” fats, meaning that our bodies can’t make them, and we must get the building blocks from food. Our bodies can make other, “nonessential” fats from the two essential fats.
One of the essential fats is alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat, which our bodies convert to EPA and DHA, the latter being particularly important for brain health.
The second essential fat is the omega-6 linolenic acid, which our bodies convert to arachidonic acid, too much of which causes inflammation.
The building blocks for omega-3 are found in small amounts in several green vegetables, beans and fruit. They are found in larger amounts in walnuts, seeds and flax.
The building blocks for omega-6 are found in small amounts in certain vegetables and seeds, but in concentrated amounts in oils made from these vegetables and seeds such as safflower and sunflower and corn oil and even olive oil (read Dr. Dean Ornish’s book “The Spectrum”).
Optimal health results when the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 1:1 or at most 2:1.
Unfortunately, the average American has a ratio between 10:1 to 30:1.
High levels of omega-6 and not enough omega-3 can result in:
• Dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
• Heart disease.
• Autoimmune diseases.
• Increased risk for cancer.
Why not get already-made omega-3 from fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna, trout) or fish oil? Fish is an animal protein, which results in health problems not associated with plant protein. Furthermore, essentially all fish and other seafood, as well as fish oil, has worrisome levels of toxins such as PCBs and heavy metals. To avoid high levels of omega-6, avoid or at least cut down on added oils. To raise omega-3 levels eat the following every day:
• Ground flaxseed, 1 to 2 tablespoonfuls.
• Walnuts, 12 halves.
• Soybeans or tofu 1½ cup.
For genetic reasons, some people may not convert enough of the omega-3 building blocks to EPA and DHA. So if you don’t eat fish, to ensure brain health it’s wise to take 250 mg a day of vegan algae-derived omega 3, which is free of contaminants. This available at Vitamin Cottage (get the most cost-effective brand) and at http://www.DrFuhrman.com.
There is an inexpensive blood test available through some labs including the Cleveland Heart Lab that checks your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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