In a previous post, I talked about how the health of one’s gut influenced brain health. So you might ask what nutrients in the gut are required to promote brain health. The importance of essential fatty acids (EFAs) is a proven necessity in modern nutrition, and omega-3 EFAs are one of the most beneficial groups of nutrients for the brain and overall health. Therefore, it is essential that we get the all important omega-3 fats from the right foods and supplements.
Omega-3 fats build brain cell membranes, reduce brain inflammation, and promote new brain cell formation. They can improve mood and memory and protect against brain disorders ranging from depression to dementia. These omega-3 EFAs can lower the risk of major chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer and arthritis. But guess what? 70% of Americans are believed to be omega-3 deficient! This deficiency is linked to over 50 diseases and contributes to 96,000 preventable deaths per year.
The other main kind of EFA: Omega 6
We don’t hear too much about omega-6 essential fatty acids, but they are not to be ignored. Unlike omega-3 EFAs which have anti-inflammatory properties, omega-6 EFAs are pro-inflammatory and contribute to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a major factor in major diseases such as heart disease, autoimmune diseases, cancer and diabetes. Such inflammation also plays a big role in brain fog, ADHD, anxiety, depression and memory loss.
We need some omega-6s in our diet, but most of us consume way too much. The average American eats as much as 25 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fats! And surprisingly enough, a major source of omega-6 fats come from supposedly healthy vegetable oils like canola, safflower and soy oils.
How to get more omega-3 fats in our diets
How much omega-3 we get from food depends on many factors, such as the quality of the food source and the form of the essential fatty acid found in it. Both plants and animals contain omega-3 fats but in different forms. Animal sources are high in health-promoting EPA and DHA, whereas plants contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). This ALA is not easily converted in the body to EPA and DHA, and the amount which does get converted is negligible. Also consider that plant sources containing omega-3 ALA are from vegetable and seed oils which are high in omega-6 fats. The best conclusion to draw from these facts is most plant foods are poor sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids due to poor ALA conversion and the presence of omega-6 fats.
We can turn to animal sources for providing omega-3 EFAs, primarily fish. The best omega-3 food sources are cold water fish such as herring, salmon, mackerel, halibut, and sardines. But there are many concerns about eating too much fish, such as high levels of mercury, PCBs, pesticides, and other contaminants. Meat, poultry, and eggs can be good sources of omega-3 depending on how the animals they come from are raised. Since animals cannot manufacture omega-3 fats, they get it from the food they eat. Wild game is an excellent source of omega-3s, but how often do you sit down to a meal with wild game? At one time, circumstances existed whereby domesticated animals grazed on wild grasses and other natural omega-3 food sources. Now most cattle are found in feed lots eating foods unnatural to them such as soy and corn–foods that don’t contain omega-3 fats.
What is the answer?
Since learning that it is almost impossible to get all the omega-3s you need from food sources alone, you can understand why about 70% of the American population is omega-3 deficient. For this reason, most of us need to turn to adding supplements to our diets to make up for this deficiency. The most popular choice for omega-3 supplementation has been fish oil, but now there is an alternative that may be superior to fish oil. That alternative is krill oil.
Fish Oil vs. Krill Oil
Krill are small shrimp found in the waters of the Antarctic. The DHA molecules in krill oil are attached to phospholipids, which facilitate their passage through the intestinal wall. This makes krill oil more readily absorbed than fish oil. Since krill oil is absorbed more efficiently, the same benefits can be achieved with lower doses. This also means it’s easier to digest and doesn’t leave a fishy aftertaste. Krill oil is also an excellent source of an extremely potent antioxidant that naturally keeps krill oil fresh. Note: Krill oil should be avoided if you are allergic to shellfish.
The bottom line is this: omega-3 essential fatty acids are one of the most important nutrients for your brain health, mental well-being and overall health.
- Plants are not reliable sources of EPA and DHA — the most effective form of EFAs. These are the kind you want in your diet.
- To get omega-3 fats from animal sources, look for labels that say wild-caught, grass-fed, pasture-raised, or free range.
- The omega-3 benefits of moderate fish consumption outweigh the risks, especially if eating wild-caught cold water fish.
- Most people benefit from a quality omega-3 supplement. The most popular and effective are either fish oil or krill oil.