You don’t have to be into green living to know that nutrients and vitamins are important. Advances in understanding have also highlighted the importance of nutrients such as essential fatty acids.
Top of the list are the omega fatty acids that cannot be synthesised by the human body. That means they must be acquired through diet or supplementation.
Omega 3 has received especially massive media attention, with great claims being made for its fabulous health benefits. The short list includes prevention and/or treatment of cancer, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, inflammatory diseases, allergies and asthma. It has been claimed that omega 3 improves cognitive function in children and the elderly and may be beneficial for people with mental health problems, including depression and even schizophrenia.
Thousands of studies suggest that omega 3 and its close cousin omega 6 (a kind of linoleic acid) are important to the diet, but that the truly beneficial effects only really apply if a deficiency already exists. This is still vital information, since our diets are becoming increasingly low in essential fatty acids. With rising food costs many people are eating cheaper, starchy foods and less of the fresh foods that are nutrient rich. Meat from animals that are corn-fed rather than grazing grass contains little or no omega 3. Fresh oily fish that is omega-rich is not a cheap food option and in any case isn’t an option for vegetarians, vegans and those who eat little animal food in the interests of green living.
Luckily there are alternatives. Many plant foods are rich in omega 3 and 6 and it is possible to find supplements that are not derived from animal sources. In fact, supplements shouldn’t be necessary at all for people with a balanced healthy diet. Plant foods rich in omega 3 and 6 are easily available. The active ingredients (EPA and DHA) are present in a different form in plant sources, but convert in the body.
A top source of omega 3 is flax seeds, which are versatile and nutritious. They can be eaten raw or toasted and make good salad sprouts. Flax seeds are actually several times richer than fish oil in omega 3. Another good salad ingredient that is omega 3-rich is purslane. Fruits that are high in this fatty acid include kiwi fruit and lingonberries. In the vegetable category, butternuts are higher in omega 3 than most. Walnuts (specifically the common walnut, Juglans regia) are another good choice. For optimal green living, buy the organically grown brands.
Omega 6 is also found in high quantities in flax seeds, as well as a variety of other common foods, including avocados and pumpkin seeds. For those taking supplements, evening primrose oil is particularly rich in omega 6. It’s worth noting though that these fatty acids interact, and current recommendations are that omega 3 levels should exceed omega 6, and not vice versa.
Perhaps the best way to get the proportions right is to avoid the supplements and concentrate on a healthy diet rich in leafy green vegetables, with omega-rich seeds, fruits and nuts incorporated into your recipes and meal plans.