Top | The Vegetable Challenge

Omega-3s from plants

(post, Caroline Cummins)

At the back of Susan Allport's science-history book, The Queen of Fats, she gives a list of 11 tips for making sure you get enough omega-3s in your diet. 

Most Americans, as Allport points out, get plenty of omega-6s, another essential fatty acid; we snarf them in vegetable oils and, alas, processed foods. It's the omega-3s that we don't down enough of, and we should; they're important for cellular health throughout the body.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Green vegetables are good sources of omega-3s."]

You've probably seen articles saying you should eat more fish, which are chock full of omega-3s, especially fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. You might've also seen fresh eggs labeled as containing omega-3s; the chickens that lay the eggs are fed flaxseed-rich diets, and their eggs are higher in omega-3s than conventional eggs.

But what else can you do? Here are Allport's 11 tips — and pay close attention to numero uno:

# Eat lots (and lots) of fruits and vegetables. As Allport writes, "Green vegetables are full of alpha linolenic acid, the parent omega-3 fatty acid, and all fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that protect fats against oxidation . . . You should eat the vegetables you enjoy — and lots of them."
# Consume oils that have a healthy balance of omega-3s and omega-6s. Certain vegetable oils, such as safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and peanut oil, are very high in omega-6s and low in omega-3s. Other vegetable oils, such as flaxseed, walnut, and canola, are much higher in omega-3s.
# Eat a wide variety of fish. Don't just focus your efforts on fatty fish, even though they have more omega-3s than other types of fish; all fish, says Allport, have omega-3s. And eating a wide diversity of fish, Allport writes, "should also help to prevent overfishing and protect us against toxins that tend to accumulate in certain species."
# Eat omega-3-enriched eggs. The carton may say "DHA" instead of "omega-3" — the acronym stands for docosahexaenoic acid, one of the omega-3s (others include eicosapentaenoic acid and alpha linolenic acid).
# Try to include a source of omega-3s in every meal. In addition to the aforementioned fruits, vegetables, oils, fish, and eggs, Allport suggests soybeans and nuts, especially walnuts.
# Avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. You know these oils better by the name trans fats, prevalent in processed foods. Their omega-3 content is much lower than that of non-hydrogenated oils.
# Choose free-range chicken, beef, bison, and pork whenever you can. Because free-range animals — and we're talking animals that are truly free-range, not chickens with the seldom-used option of wandering outside onto a dirt field — have more diverse diets (think grass instead of corn), their flesh is much higher in omega-3s.
# Cut down on saturated fats. But don't make the mistake of replacing those saturated fats with tons of omega-6s; you won't do yourself any good.
# Take special precautions if you are pregnant or a woman of reproductive age. You've heard all this before: watch out for mercury-laced fish and make every effort to breastfeed.
# Use supplements carefully. Skip the supplements that combine omega-3s and omega-6s, says Allport; you're probably already eating too many omega-6s anyways. "If you take fish oil," writes Allport, "look for products that are of pharmaceutical grade or are molecularly distilled, thus ensuring that they will be free of metals and other toxins." Fish oil (usually made from mackerel and sardines) is better than cod-liver oil, which contains high levels of vitamin A. Flaxseed oil should be taken with vitamin B6, since flaxseed consumption can interfere with B6.
# Maintain a healthy weight by getting the exercise and calories you need. Well, duh. But of course, this is often easier said than done.

reference-image, l