Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats in the Diet

The brain is an organ made up of mostly fat, a substance that many of us try to keep under control in our diet. A particular type of Omega-3 fat, Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is prevalent and plays an important role in the brain. DHA works in a way that enables our brain cells to communicate. For example, there are studies that suggest Omega-3 fats may play a critical role in mental health by regulating proper amounts of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Additionally, a small study at Oxford, found that fatty-acid supplementation (800 mg per day) for three months significantly improved reading, spelling and behavior in children with ADHD. This connects with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who found a correlation between higher levels of Omega-3 fats in the blood and fewer impulsive behaviors. Omega-3 fats are not only healthy for our fatty brains but also for our hearts as they can help lower triglycerides, increase HDL (the “good” fat), lower high blood pressure and possibly prevent blood from clotting. Our bodies cannot produce this critical fat, instead DHA is a fat that we can obtain only from the foods we eat in our diets.

The requirement of consuming foods that contain important Omega-3 fats could be a problem. A typical American diet drastically tips the scales towards being deficient in Omega-3 fats which are found in sardines, salmon, tuna, mussels, rainbow trout, grass fed animals, wild animals and walnuts. On the contrary, a typical American diet is overabundant in Omega-6 fats from a highly processed diet containing soybean, safflower and corn oils. Last century, the consumption of Omega-6 oils increased nearly 500% from an annual per capita intake of 11 pounds to 64 pounds. Prior to the prevalence of highly processed food diets, our ancestors consumed about equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats.

In order to strike a balance, we do not need to increase our world’s fisheries production, which is already struggling from overfishing and dangerously reduced amounts of certain types of fish. Instead, simply reducing the amount of Omega-6 fats in our diets and thus reducing the amount of processed foods we consume, will work. For example, the Mediterranean-style diet focuses on consuming vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil and ample amounts of seafood. It is also limited in meat. Even though fish is really the only source of Omega-3 fats in this style of eating, it is significantly reduced in processed foods and Omega-6 fats providing a better balance of the two fats in our diets.

Pocket guides with information about ocean friendly seafood choices are available from Seafood Watch. Another great resource for those living in the Omaha area is Absolutely Fresh Seafood, where fresh seafood is flown in daily.