For a very long time, dietary fats were seen as the sole cause of health problems and obesity. While fats are no longer public enemy number one, the idea that fat can be healthy is still not fully accepted among the general public. In this article, we will be talking about the benefits of increasing your fat intake, focusing specifically on omega 3 fatty acids.
There are two fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself, they can only be sourced from your diet. They are therefore known as essential fatty acids. These are alpha-linolenic acid (an omega 3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega 6 fatty acids).
If you don’t consume these fatty acids through your diet, you will become deficient in them, which is a big deal as they have many health benefits. Ideally, you want a ratio of 4:1 omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. The smaller the ratio, the better.
Sadly, the Western diet tends to have a much higher average ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, around 30:1 by some estimates. Which is why it is a good idea to increase the amount of omega 3 in your diet. There are two ways of doing this, you can eat more foods that are rich in omega 3, or you can take an omega 3 supplement.
If it is a choice between the two, then increasing your omega 3 intake through diet is the better option. However, this isn’t always easy to do. The richest sources of omega 3 is fish, and there are very few plant-based options. A vegetarian or vegan would struggle to get enough omega 3 from their diet.
Another group who would struggle is those who dislike fish. As would those who tend to eat excessively high levels of omega 6. As the amount of omega 3 required would obviously increase. In these circumstances, then an omega 3 supplement is a good idea.
There are many benefits associated with hitting your recommended intake of omega 3 fatty acids. There are no benefits of taking more than you need to, and this is not recommended.
There are several benefits in this section, but all of them are pretty much related to this first one. The main function of omega 3 is to curb inflammation, which has many health benefits. A 2010 study by Dangardt et al found that omega 3 supplementation led to a reduction in inflammation in obese adolescents.
Of all the benefits on this list, the evidence that omega 3 intake can help to lower triglyceride levels is the strongest. According to examine.com, omega 3 supplementation can help to reduce triglyceride levels by between 15 and 30%. High triglyceride levels can lead to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) which causes strokes and heart disease. So, reducing them through diet or supplementation is a no-brainer.
There is quite a lot of evidence that high omega 3 levels have been able to help reduce the symptoms of bipolar depression. Though it does not appear to have the same effect on people who only suffer “minor” depressive symptoms. Either way, it is best to talk to your doctor before turning to supplements or dietary changes.
There is also some evidence that omega 3 intake can help to reduce cortisol levels and anxiety, both of which can cause depression.
There appears to be good evidence that people with high blood pressure who increase their omega 3 intake can see a reduction in blood pressure. This could well be due to the reduction of triglycerides that we mentioned in benefit #2. Lower triglyceride levels means reduced atherosclerosis, which leads to lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
This benefit is very important, so we’ve included it, but if you’ve read the other four benefits there is no real need to explain it. Reduced triglyceride levels, less risk of atherosclerosis, lower blood pressure, all of which lead to a reduced risk of heart disease.
The final benefit that we’re going to mention is the possible ability of omega 3 to help with rheumatoid arthritis. This all comes back to how omega 3 can fight inflammation, which is the cause of rheumatoid arthritis. Studies seem to indicate that omega 3 can help to reduce the number of swollen and tender joints, helping to alleviate the pain for some people.
Eating more oily fish is one of the best ways to naturally increase your omega 3 levels. Reducing your omega 6 intake slightly (use less vegetable oil) can also help as can cutting down on your meat intake. Supplementation can also help, particularly if you don’t eat fish.