How Much Omega-3 Do We Need?
Omega 6 is found in many foods like the oils we use for cooking, seeds, nuts, and beans. So, Omega 6 deficiency isn’t a concern. However, the same can’t be said for Omega 3 deficiency. Many resources say that 60% of Americans are deficient in Omega 3 and others put the number at 90%. When Dr. Hyman appeared on the Dr. Oz show (who I wouldn’t exactly say is a credible source of nutrition information), he said that 99% of Americans are deficient in Omega 3. It is unclear where these stats are coming from since they don’t quote any scientific studies, but it is pretty clear that people on the Western diet do need more Omega 3.
The RDA for Omega 3 is 1.6g/day for adult men and 1.1g/day for healthy adult women. This amount of Omega 3 could easily be obtained by eating a ½ ounce of walnuts, or a handful of just about any other type of nut or seed. Beans, legumes, and wheat germ are also high in Omega 3.
But the problem isn’t with Omega 3. It is with DHA and EPA.
*There are no established daily requirements for DHA and EPA. The American Heart Foundation recommends that adults consume 500 mg of DHA and EPA combined per day. However, most studies use a recommendation of 1000mg/day for DHA and 220mg/day for EPA.
Since our bodies make EPA and DHA out of Omega 3 fatty acids, one would think that eating more Omega 3 foods would help us get enough of these nutrients. Unfortunately, the body is not very good at turning Omega 3 into EPA or DHA. Women convert about 21% of Omega 3 into EPA and 9% into DHA. By contrast, men only convert about 8% of Omega 3 into EPA and 0-4% of Omega 3 into DHA.
Some evidence shows that too much Omega 6 blocks Omega 3 conversion into EPA and DHA.
There are very few food sources of DHA and EPA. They are almost exclusively found in fish, though some DHA can be found in seaweed. To make sure you don’t end up with a deficiency, you might want to consider supplementing with DHA and EPA. Or, you could try to help your body convert more DHA and EPA by improving your Omega 3:6 ratios.
The PUFAs are classified into the omega-3 and omega-6 families. Referred to as the omegas, the omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and the omega-6 fatty acid is linoleic acid (LA). Both these are essential nutrients for health.
An adequate intake of omegas may prevent and control a number of inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, macular degeneration, and immune dysfunction (e.g. asthma, eczema). However, omegas utilise the same enzymes for their metabolic pathway, so it is important to balance their intakes appropriately. The ideal ratio of LA to ALA acid (O6:O3) is 3:1. However, the Western diet which is heavily dependent on fried and processed foods tends to have a ratio closer to 15:1. The activity of enzymes can be affected by excessive intakes of saturated fats, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, as well as deficiencies in zinc, magnesium and vitamins B and C which can be common in Western diet. Under these circumstances omega 6 fatty acids inhibit the conversion pathway of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 deficiency can therefore occur and this creates hormone-like substances which encourage platelet stickiness, inflammation and water retention, leading to high blood pressure.
LA is widely available in a vegetarian diet from nuts, seeds, maize (corn) and soya beans. ALA is found in flaxseed, walnuts and hempseed. Both LA and ALA are found in green leafy vegetables, milk and eggs. Please ensure that you use ONLY hormone-free, free range eggs and goat / sheep milk. Confirm with your DBM Physician if these foods are permitted on your program.
The health benefits of omega-3 are suggested to come from docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which the body makes from the parent essential fatty acid ALA. In nature, marine algae is the primary source of DHA and EPA. A non-vegetarian source of omega-3 is oily fish because it is rich in DHA and EPA from marine algae. There are a number of vegetarian supplements for DHA and EPA available (see approved products) if you are concerned about your intake.
There is no recommended daily intake for Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's). Most guidelines are based on an intake of oily fish which is unhelpful for vegetarians. HOWEVER, the 2009 revised European Food Safety Authority guidelines for daily intake recommend the following to support cardiovascular health and neuro-development: An omega-3 fatty acid intake of 2g/day alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and 250 mg/day long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). An omega-6 atty acid intake of 10g/day linoleic acid (LA).
For those on DBM Programs see the recommended amounts of flaxseed on the charts alongside.
Flaxseed seeds and oil are a very good source of omega 3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds should be freshly crushed or milled in order to ensure nutrient absorption. The seed contains fibre and compounds called lignans. Lignans have an effect on hormone balance so the intake of flaxseed should be restricted during pregnancy. Hemp seeds have an ideal O6:O3 ratio and contain significant amounts gamma-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid.
Other foods can add to your ALA intake. Most of the fat in leafy green vegetables is ALA, for example broccoli has 0.13g per 100g and cabbage 0.11g per 100g. Occasionally you will find small levels of ALA or DHA in eggs, if the hens have been fed on flaxseeds or algae. Although organic goat milk has been heralded as having 60-70% higher levels of ALA than ordinary milk it is worth remembering that its overall level of polyunsaturated fats is low, even though it has a good O6:O3 ratio.
Please check with your DBM Physician if eggs and goat / sheep milk products are permissible on your program. Essential fatty acids can generate free radicals once they are subjected to heat, light and oxygen. For cooking it is recommended to use oils which are high in mono-unsaturated fats, such as olive, coconut or groundnut. Flaxseed oil is also best purchased in dark bottles and stored away from heat or light.
Changing your diet
If you are thinking of changing your diet or have been encouraged to by your health professional, read and/or download our Eat To Live booklet and Eat To Live Recipe booklet, which can be found on this link
Changing to a vegetarian diet with more fibre can produce changes in your digestive system which may cause bloating and gas as the friendly bacteria adjust. A higher fibre diet also increases your need for fluid as fibre absorbs more water from your gut than other foods, so remember to drink plenty of water. Adopting an active lifestyle and losing weight are also important factors in remaining healthy.
For more information on fats – download our ADVANCED NUTRITION pdf. Please be aware of its size.