Many people know that they need omega-3 fatty acids to prevent heart attacks, and that they can get lots of omega-3 fatty acids from fish. But most people do not know that the omega-3 fatty acids in seeds such as flax and whole grains may be even more important in maintaining your health than the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the least stable fats in our diet. Whole grains contain lots of vitamin E to keep the omega-3s fresh and prevent them from turning rancid, but omega-3 fatty acids in fish are not protected by vitamin E and therefore turn rancid much more quickly than the omega-3 fatty acids in whole grains.
Three huge studies, The Lyon Heart Study, the GISSI Prevenzione Trial, and in The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Study have established that omega-3 fish oils help to prevent heart attacks and reduce pain and swelling in diseases such as arthritis, psoriasis, and possibly even asthma. Recent research shows that the omega-3 alpha linoleic acids in seeds, nuts, beans and whole grain may be as necessary as the omega-3s in fish oils to prevent heart attacks.
Omega-3s found in fish oils are mostly long chain fatty acids. Omega-3s in plants, particularly seeds, contain much shorter chains and are weaker than the omega-3s found in fish. However, the shorter chain omega-3s, particularly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in leafy greens and seeds are converted to the long chain fatty acids in the human body. Long-chain fish omega-3s enter blood and cells more rapidly and produce more rapid effects than short chain plant omega-3s.
Over the long haul, humans must get omega-3s from plants, as well as fish, because all omega-3s break down very quickly when exposed to oxygen in your body, and you need large amounts of vitamin E to prevent omega-3s from turning rancid. Fish oils are extremely low in vitamin E, while virtually every seed or plant source of omega-3s also has vitamin E. So your body stores far more short chain omega-3s from plants in your body fat.
Dietary fats are classified by their chemical structure into saturated, polyunsaturated and mono unsaturated. The polyunsaturated fats are further sub-classified into omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9. Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats form prostaglandins that cause clotting, a thickening of the blood and constriction of arteries that cause heart attacks. On the other hand, omega-3 polyunsaturated fats prevent heart attacks and high blood pressure by helping thin blood, relax arteries and prevent clotting. Over millions of years, humans have consumed a diet that contained approximately equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, but over the past 150 years, humans have increased their consumption of omega-6s by extracting vegetable oils from the seeds of corn, sunflower, safflower, cotton and soybeans.
These oils are used in most prepared foods, frozen foods, margarines, French fries, potato chips, and bakery products. Today Americans eat a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids that is almost 20 times higher in omega-6s than omega-3s, instead of the traditional ratio of about 2:1. This abnormally high intake of omega-6s blocks arteries and causes swelling throughout the body. To meet your needs for short chain omega-3 fatty acids found in plants, eat lots of green leafy vegetables, and seeds such as flaxseed, whole grains, beans and nuts.
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