These are essential for our health as the name implies and are seriously confusing to anyone taking an interest.
So let's take a bird's eye view of Omega 3 and other oils and see if that makes it simpler to decide whether or not to use them in your diet and supplements.
1. All oils are not the same. There is so much uninformed opinion – I would call it propaganda, in the media that we have to start by saying that some oils are not just healthy when included in your diet but they may actually save your life or at least add some healthy years to your life.
There is a lot of medical evidence that oils can be used as natural medicines.
2. There are 2 types of oils. They are known as saturated and unsaturated oils. These are technical names in biochemistry and sound rather odd, but there we go!
Saturated oils are very stable and can take heat and last a good while in the kitchen and on the shelf.
Examples here include butter and coconut oil.
Unsaturated oils need to be treated with consideration because although they are very good for our health they are a tad delicate and may be damaged by bad handling, cooking them and storing them at too high a temperature.
Examples here include Flax oil and Evening Primrose oil
3. Enough with the introductions, today we are discussing unsaturated oils and so we can jump in now to talk about omega 3 and omega 6 oils – which again are 2 weird names from biochemistry.
Both Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils are essential in our diet. They are contained in a lot of foods and like lots of nutrients need to be in balance.
4. Omega 3 oils come from flax seeds and walnuts and at lower levels from green leafy vegetables. Fish oil has Omega 3 oils too because fish eat greens and get the omega 3 oil in the greens.
I do not recommend fish oil however due to various risks of contamination from toxins in the sea such as mercury.
5. Omega 6 oils come from many food sources such as wheat, eggs, poultry and many vegetable oils such as corn oil, sunflower and canola.
6. What these last 2 points mean is that we need to make a special effort to include omega 3 oils either as flax seeds or oil in our daily diet and that omega 6 oils are so common that not only do we not need to include them in our diet but we may need to alter our diet to reduce our intake.
7. Like so many other examples in nutrition we have a balance to strike and at present the diet that most people eat – called it the Standard American Diet or just the Western diet is skewed so badly that the small amount of omega 3 is swamped by omega 6 oils.
8. Broadly speaking Omega 3 oils are anti-inflammatory and that makes them vital for our health.
All the major diseases such as Heart disease, Cancer, Diabetes and Rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer's are fundamentally inflammatory disorders and that means that we need to take anti-inflammatory supplements to oppose, limit and treat them.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet is part of that strategy.
9. And still speaking broadly, Omega 6 oils are pro-inflammatory. Now this is not to demonise them because the body has to be able to use the inflammatory response to fight germs.
But as we've seen we need a balance and right now we have a huge imbalance towards omega 6 oils and foods
10. Recognising this reality gives you powerful leverage on your health because by including flax in your diet or supplements is a big part of controlling inflammation.
And if you want some more detail on how to work this concept on inflammation and diet take a good look at the book by Dr. Jessica Black
Do feel free to add your own experience of omega oils and to ask questions…
Photo credit: Acradenia