Have you heard of essential fatty acids? They are fatty acids that are necessary for your health, but your body can not produce them. So your body must get them from your diet. The two principal essential fatty acids are linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid and alpha-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid. You have probably seen and heard many advertisements about foods that are high in omega-3. Yet you don’t hear much advertising about foods high in omega-6 fats. The fact is that we need both types of fats to be healthy and must derive them both from our food. So why the emphasis on omega-3?
Well, it turns out that it is highly unlikely that any of us are having trouble adding omega-6 fats in our diet. Consider just some of the foods that have plenty of omega-6 fatty acids: poultry, eggs, avocado, cereals, whole grain breads, most vegetable oils, and even the Evening Primrose Oil that I take daily. In fact you may remember that I mentioned in an earlier post that pumpkin seeds were high in omega-3. Well, those little nutritious seeds also have omega-6 fatty acids in them.
Our bodies need BOTH essential fatty acids. Together and in the proper balance they support the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous systems. They also help burn more body fat. (Interesting that we need to eat fat to burn fat…) The optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is thought to be 4 to 1 or lower. Some recent studies suggest even 2 to 1. Now think about the modern Western diets which typically have ratios in excess of 10 to 1, some as high as 30 to 1!
By now you are probably wondering what this all has to do with the title of this post – another daily anti-inflammatory. Well, those omega-6 fats are converted into pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, while the omega-3 fats are metabolized into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. (Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances made in our bodies from fatty acids.) So Omega-6 fats tend to promote excessive inflammation when not balanced by sufficient amounts of omega-3 fats in the diet. Like most things in life (maybe all?), it is all about balance.
To improve your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio you need to increase your consumption of foods rich in omega-3s, such as flaxseed oil, walnuts, and cold-water fish like wild salmon, while decreasing your consumption of foods rich in omega-6 fats, such as safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, butter and the fats found in meats.
One of those foods high in omega-3 that I eat every day is (drum roll)…. flaxseed.
Wait, you say. Don’t you mean flaxseed OIL? Sure, many people buy flaxseed oil to get the full benefit of omega-3. But those nutritious little seeds have other benefits in addition from what comes from their oil.
- One major benefit is that those seeds provide fiber. I could do a whole article on the benefits of fiber, but just to name a few – lowers cholesterol, relieves constipation, stabilizes blood sugar in diabetics and lowers risk of colon cancer.
- They are also high in magnesium, which helps to reduce the severity of asthma by keeping airways relaxed and open, lowers high blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, prevents the blood vessel spasm that leads to migraine attacks, and generally promotes relaxation and restores normal sleep patterns.
- And flaxseeds have lignans, which with the omega-3 put the brakes on prostate tumor growth in men who were given 30 grams of flaxseed daily for a month before surgery to treat their prostate cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids alter how cancer cells lump together or cling to other cells, while flaxseed’s anti-angiogenic lignans choke off the tumor’s blood supply, thus helping to halt the cellular activity that leads to cancer growth.
Whole flaxseed will most likely just pass through the intestines without getting digested, so I grind a tablespoon of flaxseeds in a coffee grinder. Ground flaxseed is great in my cereal in the morning and on my yogurt in the evening. It gives a very light, slightly nutty flavor to the food. I store the whole flaxseeds in an air tight container in the refrigerator.
You can use flaxseed in place of eggs in muffins, pancakes and cookies. To substitute flaxseed for one large egg in a recipe, use 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed plus 3 tablespoons water. It will somewhat alter the texture from what you are used to.
And, as I said, it’s another daily anti-inflammatory…