Too much inflammation is a bad thing. I would go as far as to say it is one of the main culprits behind disease and malaise. Because of this, the term “inflammation” tends to get a lot of negative press, and rightly so, but it is a necessary biological process in the body. It’s a big part of how the immune system is used to heal the body. The real issue is when inflammation becomes chronic. That’s when you’ve got yourself a problem.
Do you hate your job or have problems in your relationship? Do you see no resolution in sight?
Or how about your twinky addiction? Are you eating processed, sugary treats all the time?
Or maybe you’re an exercise addict. Working out all day, everyday day.
Or are you like most Americans eating the standard western diet, loaded up with trans-fats, refined carbohydrates, and mostly animal protein with barely any vegetables to speak of besides the processed vegetable oils you’re deep frying everything in?
You’ll probably not doing any one of these things all the time… but there’s a good chance you’re doing some. Plus, poor dietary decisions and work/relationship stress tends to add up.
All of these things cause stress to the body, even exercise, though it can be good in the right dosages. My point here is when you experience stress, your body responds via a series of crazy, complex chemical pathways with a goal to rebalance the body—inflammation is a side-effect of this process.
That’s all fine and dandy, but when we undergo stress too often we subject our body to a heightened, chronic inflammatory state. This is where we begin to chip away at our health and, eventually, some nasty health issue will rear its ugly head.
But there’s hope!
In this post, I’m going to talk about one way in particular that we throw our body into a hyper-inflamed state and how we can reverse it… or at least soften the blow.
What I am talking about is making sure your essential-fatty acids (EFAs) are in proper balance.
So hang on and get ready for some important information that could help you win big at staying healthy!
What are Essential Fatty Acids?
EFAs are… as the name implies… essential. Meaning we cannot make them ourselves, we can only get them from food and/or supplements. These include omega-3s, 6, 7s, and 9s. Omega-7s and 9s are generally not talked about because we tend to get enough of them from our diet… the big ones that you probably heard of are the omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. That’s mainly what we are going to be talking about today.
EFAs are essential! The body uses these important fats to maintain proper cell membrane integrity as well as in many regulatory tasks such as maintaining blood pressure and balancing inflammatory responses in the body. To maintain balance, it is critical to be eating the right foods with the correct ratios of omega-3 and 6 fats. Maintaining a 1:3 or even a 1:1 ratio, of omega-3:6,respectively, is absolutely essential to keep inflammation under control and your body working like a well oiled machine. The problem is most consumers of a typical western diet have a ratio between 1:20 and 1:50! And that, folks, is a why we have chronic inflammation. When you are eating foods with too many omega-6s, and not enough omega-3s, that’s when your inflammation gets out of control.
Our omega-3 to 6 ratios typically fall out of balance from the overconsumption of processed vegetable/seed oils, nuts and seeds, and many animal products (although animals fed on a non-grain diet tend to have a better omega-3:6 profile). This is also why I advocate against cooking with the correct types of oils. Read my article on using the cooking oils for more info. And we aren’t eating enough foods that increase our omega-3 fat levels, such as consuming 2-3 times per week fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines.
Check Your Levels
At this point, you might be curious what your omega-3:6 ratio is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to measure it.
The only way to really know is to get nerdy and get lab work done that tests your blood’s essential fatty acid levels. Talk to your doctor about it, or you can order the test yourself here.
How to Get Things In Balance
If you find your omega-3:6 ratio isn’t at the recommended 1:3 or 1:1 ratio, most likely your omega-6 fats will be too high. To balance things out, you need to be eating the right types of high-omega-3-containing foods.
As mentioned earlier, the best versions come from fish and seafood, and the best are salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. Some people on the interwebs will even recommend grass-fed beef, because it does have higher omega-3 fats than conventional beef. I personally do not recommend grass-fed beef as a great source for omega-3s because although it does contain a sizeable amount of these essential fats, the amount of omega-6 fats are still fairly high. But don’t get me wrong… for beef, grass-fed is always the way to go. It contains not only higher omega-3s, but also conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which acts as a antioxidant, and research is beginning to think that it may be protective against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (1).
Similarly, eggs have often lauded as a great source for omega-3 fats. You may even find eggs that are sold with “increased omega-3 fats.” Again, eggs are great, but not your best bet if you want to increase your omega-3 fats significantly. High omega-3 eggs are produced by feeding the hens flaxseeds, which are naturally high in the plant-base omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Once the hens consume the flax, they convert the ALA into the essentials fatty acids our body can use called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pretty neat in theory, but I do question the quality of the flax these hens are consuming. If, for example, a farmer is feeding his hens flax, but rancid flax (which is most likely the case), the amount of bioavailable, human-friendly, omega-3 fats present in the eggs might won’t be significant. If you want an egg that has higher omega-3 fats, among other nutrients as well, just go for pastured eggs (2). And when I say pastured I don’t mean “free-range.” The egg carton should say pastured eggs right on there. You’ll pay more, but it’s worth it. But again, eating eggs alone won’t get you into the right omega-3:6 balance we’re striving for.
What’s A Vegetarian To Do?
If you don’t eat meat, you can get minute amounts of omega-3 fats in a lot of different vegetables, such as beans or even dark leafy greens, but the highest sources of vegetarian omega-3 fats are found in flax, chia, hemp, and walnuts.
The problem here is if you derive all your omega-3 fats from plant sources, you are only making a small dent at improving your essential fatty-acid ratio balance. As mentioned earlier, the reason for this is the specific ALA omega-3 fats that are found in plant cannot be readily used in the human body. Instead, we have to convert these fats into the bioavailable versions EPA and DHA. In fact, typically less than 6% of the plant-sourced omega-3 fats can be converted into the bioavailable versions (3). And to make matters worse, if you’re diabetic, have low thyroid function, or older than 20, your body will do an even worse job at converting ALA into the useful EPA and DHA. This means you are basically wasting your time and money, chomping those walnuts or guzzling that flaxseed oil if your goal is to increase your omega-3 status.
I just want to drive this point home…
The only way you can sufficiently increase your levels of omega-3 fats is by eating fish at least 2-3 times a week. And if you choose to do this, please make sure you are getting fish from a good source, that is not farm raised.
But What If I Don’t Want To Eat Fish?
At this point you might be thinking that eating fish multiple times a week seems like an impossible task… and since plant-based options are out… what other options are there?
Nope. You are screwed.
Just kidding! You can supplement. 🙂
And that’s what my next article is going to go into detail about. I’m going to dive in and give you a break down for the best omega-3 supplements. And I’ll have some good options for vegetarians AND meat eaters alike. Rejoice!
Plus, I’m going to include a handy trick to use omega-3 supplements to increase weight loss!