Essential Fatty Acids cannot be made naturally by the body, so they must be supplemented into our diet through our food intake. Among a long list of health benefits, they are necessary for repairing and building cells. There are 2 main types of essential fatty acids:
Omega-3 – These are most known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, helping prevent heart disease, and lowering blood pressure.
Omega-6 – These are most known for lowering blood cholesterol and supporting healthy skin.
If you consume too few Omega-3s and too many Omega-6s – which produces an unhealthful “omega imbalance” in the body – your brain, heart, and immune system (including inflammation control) can’t function properly, and your risk of major diseases increases.
Athough we do need both Omega-3s and Omega-6s, our typical diet tthese days overpopulated by Omega-6′s and many scientists believe that a major reason for the high incidence of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, premature aging, and some forms of cancer is the profound imbalance between our intake of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids.Our ancestors evolved on a diet with a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 of about 1:1. A massive change in dietary habits over the last few centuries has changed this ratio to something closer to 20:1
So what we need to do is to get our Omaga-3 fatty acids, while limiting (or balancing) our Omega-6′s.
By far, the best type of Omega-3 fats are those found in fish. That's because the Omega-3 in fish is high in two fatty acids crucial to human health, DHA and EPA. These two fatty acids are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. The human brain is also highly dependent on DHA - low DHA levels have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, memory loss, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's. Researchers are now also linking inadequate intake of these omega-3 fats in pregnant women to premature birth and low birth weight, and to hyperactivity in children.
Sadly, though, eating most fresh fish, whether from the ocean, lakes and streams, or farm-raised, is no longer recommended. Mercury levels in almost all fish have now hit dangerously high levels across the world, and the risk of this mercury to your health now outweighs the fish's Omega-3 benefits.
Fish that are both low in mercury and high in healthy fats are anchovy, herring, mackerel (Atlantic, jack, chub), rainbow trout (farm raised), salmon (wild or farm raised), sardines, shad (American), and whitefish. I personally love sardines and eat them at least twice a week.
Another option for increasing your Omega-3 intake is with supplements.The recommended daily intake of EPA plus DHA is about 650 mg rising to 1000 mg/day during pregnancy and lactation.
Fish oil supplementation does, however, lower blood concentrations of vitamin E so it is a good idea to take extra vitamin E when adding fish oils to your diet.
Although cod liver oil is a good source of Omega-3s, it contains high amounts of vitamin A that are potentially toxic during pregnancy.
There are also Omega-3 supplements that are derived from algae rather than fish. These supplements have no mercury, no fishy aftertaste, and they're even appropriate for vegetarians.