Top Foods High in Omega-3
Omega-3 is a high-profile nutritional trend, ranking alongside with calcium and fiber in consumers’ concerns . And unlike some food fads that are over in a flash, the need for omega-3 may be as genuine as advertised.
Omega-3 refers to omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats, which, despite their misunderstood reputation, are vital nutrients. Omega-3 is used to regulate blood clotting, build cell membranes and support cell health. It’s polyunsaturated, which is the relatively heart-healthy kind of fats that help reduce blood triglycerides (fats) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol.
Omega-3 also curbs inflammation. While inflammation is a normal part of the body’s immune response, research indicates that it also underlies a host of serious illnesses, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers and autoimmune diseases.
Omega-3 is called an essential fatty acid: It’s essential to health, and because the human body doesn’t produce it, it’s essential in the diet. Unfortunately, the typical American diet includes relatively few foods that are rich in omega-3.
Complicating matters is another essential fatty acid, omega-6. Omega-6 is another polyunsaturated fatty acid, and it complements the functions of omega-3 in foods. In a contrasting role, however, omega-6 promotes inflammation. What’s more, omega-6 may compete with omega-3 for metabolization in the body. The modern Western diet tends to be top-heavy with omega-6 acids, largely due to the reliance on refined vegetable oils both in homes and in the food industry.
In this article, we’ll fill your plate with 10 foods that can help even the score between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. We’ll highlight proteins, dairy products, veggies and snacks, and fill your knowledge stores with some basic science to help you identify other good choices.
Starting with pasture-raised animals lets us explain how omega-3 acids enter the food chain. It also shows how tweaking conventional production methods can affect nutrition in the food supply.
The omega-3 acids in most plants are alpha-linolenic acids (ALAs). ALAs have short chains of carbon. Humans and animals convert them into two long-chain forms that are usable by their bodies: eicosapentaenoic acids (EPAs) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHAs). The process isn’t terribly efficient, however: Only about 5 percent of the ALA is converted. Thus, foods from animals — in which the ALA has already been converted into usable forms — are generally more efficient sources of omega-3 than foods from plants.
Conventionally raised meat is fed corn. Corn oil is among those mentioned on the last page as being high in omega-6 acids, and the same holds true for the corn kernels. Pasture-raised animals subsist largely on grasses, which not only lowers their omega-6 levels but also boosts their levels of omega-3. In one test involving cattle, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 dropped from almost 9:1 in corn-fed to under 2:1 in grass-fed animals. In another experiment, the numbers dropped from more than 13:1 to less than 3:1 . Goats, sheep and bison have all shown similar results. Poultry scientists are working to achieve the same results with chicken and other birds.
Studies have also shown that grass-based diets for beef cattle lower the levels of two saturated fatty acids, myristic and palmitic, in their meat. These fatty acids tend to increase blood cholesterol levels in people who consume them .