Importance of Omega oils
By Shauna McCarney
So what are Essential Fatty Acids??
Essential fats (EFA’s) – the omega-3 and omega-6 essential polyunsaturated fats – help us stay physically healthy, reducing the risk of allergies, asthma, eczema and infections, due to their anti-inflammatory and immune-supportive properties. Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are ‘essential’, but we can’t make them for ourselves, so we must get them from our diet. For this reason they are called ‘Essential Fatty Acids’.
Omega-3 or Omega-6?
Omega-3 fatty acids consist of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which are derived from plants, and Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) which are derived from animal foods. They are particularly needed for the growing brain, nervous system, to maintain a healthy heart and circulation, to prevent inflammation, and to support eye and brain function at all ages. Some research shows that children who regularly eat oily fish a couple of times per week and have a good intake on Omega-3 fat are less likely to get asthma. Essential Fatty Acids also improve skin and hair quality and boost metabolic rate – but their benefits to mental performance are what has attracted most recent interest.
Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) are the long chain polyunsaturated Omega-3 fats that are vital for brain growth, visual and neurological development in the young fetus and infant. Women who do not eat oily fish may not get enough of these fats. The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommend that pregnant women should consume:
- 200mg DHA per day as is recommended for the general adult population
- >500mg per day of DHA+EPA
This can be achieved by eating one or two portions of oily fish per week. A portion is about 100g of cooked weight. Oily fish includes salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, herring and fresh tuna. Pregnant women who do not eat oily fish may choose to take supplements of Omega-3 fats to ensure an adequate intake. Many health shops and pharmacies have a wide selection of pregnancy supplements on offer.
Omega-6 fatty acids are normally plentiful in our diets and can be found in most vegetable oils and most grains.
Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats in the diet
Achieving a balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 can affect your health. Up until about 50 years ago our diets had about equal quantities of these fats, but nowadays we eat a much higher proportion of Omega-6 fats and very little Omega-3 fat. This change is thought to be one of the factors causing increased rates of allergy, asthma and hay fever in children. Most people tend to be deficient in Omega-3 rather than Omega-6.
Dietary Sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids:
Foods that provide Omega-6:
-Most vegetable oils
-most nuts and seeds
Foods that provide Omega-3
-Flaxseeds and flax oil
-oily fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, salmon and tuna
-Fortified eggs (some eggs are now fortified with Omega-3, check the label for details)
Fats for the brain
Did you know that your intake of essential fats has a direct effect on your child’s IQ? A child’s brain develops at a fast rate during their formative years and ensuring they have an adequate supply of Omega-3 EFA’s in their diet can affect their concentration, attention and problem solving ability.
As long as your child is eating oily fish 2-3 times a week, they should be getting a good level of essential fats to help their brains develop and boost their IQ. If you want to try Omega-3 supplements for your child, always check their quality and purity and make sure the manufacturer uses the best extraction methods.
There are many good brands of supplements available to buy at present and many brands cover supplements from pregnancy right through infant, school children and older age groups etc so it will be easy for you to find a supplement which suits your needs.