The Omega-3 issue

On the benefits and the best foods that offer this polyunsaturated fatty acid

May 30, 2013 06:03 pm | Updated November 13, 2021 10:23 am IST

Walnuts are recommended for vegetarians

Walnuts are recommended for vegetarians

So you’ve heard about this Omega-3. You’ve been told that you should eat fish oil capsules. You’ve also been told that flax and walnuts are rich in Omega-3. Well, that’s good but, like most things in the nutrition realm, you’ve been told half-truths. And that means you’ve also been told half-lies. So let’s kill the fluff and educate ourselves, shall we?

Firstly, Omega-3 stands for omega 3 fatty acid which is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. It refers to a group of three fats called Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is a plant-based fatty acid while EPA and DHA are animal based.

It is true that Omega-3 consumption can greatly benefit health conditions like cardiovascular disease (CVD), high cholesterol levels, depression, rheumatoid arthritis and potentially, cancer.

That’s the half that is true. But what you’ve not been told is that all the benefits of omega 3 consumption comes from EPA and DHA and not ALA.

Since not everyone is open to consuming animal products, flax and walnuts are recommended as a substitute, especially to vegetarians. But here’s the issue — these, though rich in Omega-3, are only rich in ALA and not in EPA or DHA. ALA can be converted to DHA but the conversion rate is extremely poor in humans making it a worthless effort.

How about fish oil capsules? It is true that fish oil is extremely rich in EPA and DHA in addition to Vitamin A. But there is a certain amount of EPA and DHA you need per day and the amount per capsule is so minimal that you’ll need to wash down 15-25 capsules a day, which is of course not a good idea. Just so we’re clear, the 1-2 capsules you reluctantly swallow everyday is doing you absolutely no favors.

So what is the solution then? Two words — fish oil. No capsules. No nuts. Just plain oil. An average adult will need about 1 gram of EPA + DHA which is present in about 1 teaspoon of Seacod fish oil. You can get this oil at your local chemist (ask them to source it). But, this will by far be the worst thing you’ve ever put in your mouth.

So, drink 1 tsp of fish oil every day and you’re set? Well, not yet. The part I didn’t touch on is the Omega-6 Omega-3 ratio. Very simply, we need to consume Omega-6 and Omega-3 acids at a 3:1 ratio. Eating wholesome food as intended by Nature automatically ensures this but due to the sad nature of our current diets the ratio is 30:1. This is why we’re asked to supplement with Omega-3 in the first place — to skew that ratio.

But here is the issue — if we continue consuming plenty of Omega-6, we’ll need to consume ridiculous amounts of Omega-3 to balance out the ratio. The smarter way to balance this out is to reduce consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids which reduces the requirement for Omega-3. This can be done by removing vegetable, nut, grain and seed oils (which are very high in Omega-6) from your diet and replacing them with healthful stable oils like coconut oil, butter and ghee.

So if you want to reap the benefits of Omega-3 supplementation (and you should), drastically reduce using vegetable/nut/seed oils, replace them with butter, ghee or coconut oil and supplement with 1 teaspoon of fish oil per day.

(The writer is a certified fitness and nutrition expert.)

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