Nutrition Meets Food Science

Choosing oil? – Look for Omega 3

Choosing oil? – Look for omega 3

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Requirements of fats have been most controversial. Although touted as villains in nutrition once upon a time, we have enough research to prove that they are actually friends if used in the right way. Fats are of various kinds, depending on their chemical structure. The most critical among them are poly unsaturated fats (PUFA), which are also called as essential fats. They are called so, because body cannot manufacture them from other fats and therefore it is imperative that they are consumed as a part of regular diet. These PUFA are of two kinds: omega6 and omega3. Omega6 is widely disturbed in nature as compared to omega 3, which is only present in certain specific foods. Fishes are rich sources of long chain omega 3 fats which are called Eicosapenteanoic acid and Docosahexanoic acid. Vegetarian foods contain alpha linolenic acid, which has to be converted to its active form in our body.

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Major sources of omega 3 fats are fish (specifically fish oils). Among fish the richest sources of omega 3 are found in cold water fishes like salmon, herring, cod. Among other fish’s mackerel (bangda) is rich source of these fatty acids. Among vegetarian foods sources of alpha linolenic acid are Flaxseed, Walnuts, Chia seeds, certain green leafy vegetables and pulses. Certain oils like flax seed oil are richest source of omega 3 fats. As omega 3 fats are very fragile in nature these oils cannot be heated and should be ideally used in their cold form (also should be bought from cold pressed farm). Certain other oils like mustard oil, canola oil, ghee are moderately rich source of omega 3 fats.

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The ratio of omega3: omega6 in diet is critical. This is so because if there is too much omega6 in diet, it leads to production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which causes inflammation inside our body – sowing seeds of many metabolic diseases.

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Omega 3 fats have function in our body which are critical in every phase of life. In foetal and in younger age, Docosapentanoic acid are important for retinal cells (and hence good vision) and also important in developmental of brain(hence good cognition). In adult life, consumption of right amount of omega 3 fats prevents hyper triglyceridemia (increased triglycerides of fats in blood). Also, consumption of these fats also prevents platelet aggregation. Both high triglycerides and platelet aggregation are implicated in heart disease and stroke in adult life. Consumption of omega 3 fats has also shown to have beneficial effects in person have high blood pressure and arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythm).

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Diets of hunter gatherer human had omega 3: omega6 in ratio of 1:1, but as humans became agrarians this ratio changed, with increase in proportion of omega 6 fats. After industrial revolution diets became rich in omega6, which extremely skewed ratios, which is when we saw a rise in metabolic disease. Hence the current recommendation is of omega6: omega3 is 5: 1 to 15: 1. Therefore it is imperative that we choose cooking fats carefully, consume nuts and seeds which are rich source of these important fats and most importantly do not over heat oils, which leads to destruction of these fragile fats.

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Shilpa Joshi

Mumbai Diet and Health Center
National Vice President, Indian Dietetic Association
Hon. Secretary All India Association for Advancing Research in Obesity

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