What foods have omega or EFA’s?
By now most of us have heard about the health and nutrition benefits of incorporating EFA’s–essential fatty acids–in our diets; and have probably seen the addition of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in pastas, cereals, and even baked goods. But what are these nutrients, and what role do they play in our bodies? Can the nutrition in these “good” fats really keep us sharp, focused, and mentally agile?
What are Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids (EFA’s). They are the raw materials used to make all the special fats in the structure of our brain, eyes, ears, testes, ovaries, adrenals and the membranes that surround and protect every cell in our bodies. Our bodies cannot manufacture them, so we must consume them in our diets. Omega- 9 fatty acids are not essential. Our bodies need omega 9 fats, but we can manufacture them from other sources. Sources include avocado, olive, canola, peanut, safflower, and sunflower oils.
The omega-3 fatty acids are known as linolenic acids, and omega-6 fatty acids are known as linoleic acids. Omega-3 EFA’s are found in deepwater fish, fish oil, and some vegetable oils, such as canola, flaxseed, and walnut oil. Nuts are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, and macadamia nuts. The best fish oil sources are salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring, which have a high fat content and provide more omega-3 than other fish. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings per week. Flaxseeds are also a good source–they are low in saturated fats and calories, and have no cholesterol. There are even eggs with increased amount of EFA’s. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in raw nuts, seeds, legumes, and in unsaturated vegetable oils, such as borage oil, grape seed oil, primrose oil, sesame oil, and soybean oil. Omega –9 fatty acids also have many preventative qualities as its main component, Oleic acid, helps to reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular disease and stroke
The latest research shows that the most promising health effects of essential fatty acids are achieved through a proper balance between omega-3 and omega-6. The ratio to shoot for, experts say, is roughly 4 parts omega-3 to 1 part omega-6.
What are the benefits of a diet with proper amounts of EFA’s?
The benefits of omega-3s include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin ailments. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can help burn excess fat, boost the immune system and help protect us from an array of illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, brittle hair and nails, heart problems, mood swings or depression, joint pain, and poor circulation.
A recent study discovered that, in the USA, 25% of adults tested had so little Omega-3 essential fatty acids in their blood that they were undetectable.
How can Vegans get enough EFA’s?
The second leading source of omega-3 fatty acids is flaxseed. Both oil and seeds are great sources. Sprinkle on salads, cereals, added to baked goods, or blended in smoothies. Flaxseed oil capsules are widely available.
Eat more nuts and seeds, natural sources of omega-3. Add to salads, cereal, and have as an occasional snack, as they are generally high in fat and calories. Walnuts are on the top of the list. One serving equals approximately a small palm full.
Leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and cabbage all contain small amounts of omega-3 so including them in your diet will help you reach your daily goal.
Add more soy to your diet– another great source of omega-3. Tofu can be prepared just as you would chicken or mixed into casseroles or stir frys. Using tofu is great as it usually takes on the other flavors of the foods you are preparing. Soy can be purchased in a variety of forms, such as cheese, meat alternatives and even ice cream. Also substituting soy milk or other soy beverages can greatly increase omega-3 intake. Look for non GMA products.
Tips on how to include more EFA’s in my diet:
- Make it a habit to sprinkle ground flax or linseed, or walnuts on cereal, or sprinkle over yogurt
- Use canola oil for stir frys, and add a bit of sesame oil too.
- Look for eggs, breads, and pasta fortified with Omega-3.
- Add more soy to your diet. See our TVP taco recipe. If you haven’t tried Edamame, (soybeans), they can be found in your produce section. They are fabulous as a snack, lightly salted, or tossed in to a salad.
* Having a healthy approach to nutrition and lifestyle is a basic component of preventative medicine; and also can be effective in corrective medicine for many common health problems. Always check with your physician before beginning a new diet or supplements, as they may affect existing medical conditions.