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Boost Your Omega-3's

By Alana Sugar, May 11, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Alana Sugar
Flax Seeds When I was a kid, we never had fancy names for fat in my house. We just called it butter or oil. It's different nowadays, and all these fancy names don't just belong to scientists anymore. They are household words. Good example: Omega-3 fatty acids. A few weeks ago, I lead a tour of one of my local Whole Foods Markets for a group of school children. When we arrived at the seafood department, a team member held up a large whole fish and 8-year old Eddie wanted to know how many Omega-3's the big fish had! Well, little Eddie had it right! Fish can be a wonderful source of a type of fat called Omega-3's, which happen to be good for our brain, nervous system and heart. But as you will see, fish is not the only source. Omega-3 fatty acid is one type of polyunsaturated fat that is found in oily fish (like salmon and sardines), flax seeds (especially flax seed oil) and, to a lesser degree, in eggs (from chickens fed Omega-3s), walnuts (which also have high Omega-6's), and some leafy green vegetables. Another type of polyunsaturated fat is called Omega-6 fatty acid. You find it in corn, sunflower, safflower and soy. Both Omega-3s and Omega-6s are considered "essential fatty acids" and we need to get them from food sources because our bodies don't make them internally. Walnuts Many processed foods and vegetable oils contain high amounts of Omega-6's and very little Omega-3's. Omega-3's and Omega-6's are both "good" fats but a high Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio promotes inflammation and other imbalances that can lead to disease. The ratio found in a typical Western diet is about 10:1 to 20:1, whereas the recommended ratio is 2:1 to 4:1. So, lowering our intake of Omega-6's might be a wise way to reduce our risk of chronic diseases. To do this, choose olive, canola and peanut oil for cooking, along with real butter and if you like it, a bit of coconut oil. Cut way back on overly-processed packaged foods and typical store-bought oils made from refined vegetable sources such as soybean and cottonseed. Then, increase your intake of Omega-3's. Here are some ideas for that:
  • Nix the peanuts and go for the walnuts. Try a couple of tablespoons on a salad, over oatmeal, sprinkled over sautéed or steamed veggies, or added to chicken or tuna salad.
  • Look for free range eggs that say Omega-3's right on the label. The chickens are fed a diet with Omega-3's - usually flaxseed.
  • Have two or three servings a week of an "oily" fish such as sardines, salmon, tuna, herring or sea bass.
  • Add a little ground flax to your diet. You can do this by adding a tablespoon to smoothies or cooked cereal. Word of caution: raw ground flax can cause stomach distress for some people. Adding the flax to cooked cereal, a smoothie or fruit juice and letting it sit a little will soften it and make it easier to digest. Flax is a good source of fiber, too.
  • Try some of our delicious flax or hemp-fortified waffles, muffins and breads available in our freezer section.
  • Fortify your homemade salad dressing with a tablespoon or two of organic flaxseed oil.
Microalgae in supplement form appear to be the most promising alternative plant source of omega-3 fatty acids for vegetarians. Several gelatin-free brands are available in our Whole Body department. Salmon Many people opt to take fish oil or flax oil capsules, and some doctors are now recommending fish oil supplements. According to the Mayo Clinic, several studies have shown benefit from fish or fish oil for benefitting heart health. Always check with your doctor before beginning a supplement that contains Omega-3s. This is especially important if you are taking blood thinners. And remember that flaxseed oil, walnut oil and other oils that are high in polyunsaturated fat should be used raw on salads or drizzled on bread or grains, used in smoothies, etc. Cooking, such as frying and sautéing, damages these delicate and sensitive oils. Here's a simple recipe I make often that tastes great and provides Omega-3's: Mix a can of black beans (drained and rinsed) with a small chopped yellow pepper, 1 cup chopped carrots, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley, 2 chopped scallions and 1/3 cup chopped walnuts. Toss with a blend of 2 tablespoons flaxseed oil, 3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, 2 tablespoons reduced sodium tamari and 2-3 teaspoons of Dijon mustard. This will serve 2-4 people. Check out these recipes for more ways to boost Omega-3's: Wild King Salmon with Dried Cherries and Smoked Almond Beurre Noisette Seared Tuna with Sautéed Greens Arugula Salad with Manchego and Walnuts Hemp Seed Apricot Snack Chews Gluten-Free Flaxseed Muffins Have any thoughts on good ways to get more Omega-3's or any favorite recipes to share? I'd love to hear!




Sandra Simmons says ...
What about Chia seeds? Are they a good source? Better than flax? I've just started adding these to my yogurt but if they're not as good as flax I can go back to flax - no preference for taste, texture. Thanks! I would really love to hear an answer to this question so if you have time please email me! Thanks!
05/11/2009 10:08:57 AM CDT
Julie says ...
Great article, thanks! I hear that Chia seeds are actually higher in Omega-3s than flax seeds and that your body can break down and absorb the nutrients better too. I've always wondered what the risk of consuming too much mercury is with taking fish oil supplements. Does anyone know?
05/11/2009 10:15:23 AM CDT
Alisa - Go Dairy Free says ...
Though you can't cook with the flaxseed oil, flaxseeds are also great in baking; you can increase them in this recipe - http://tinyurl.com/pfyf7y
05/11/2009 10:16:25 AM CDT
MJ says ...
Given all the controversy about tuna population depletion and the virtual impossibility of consumers to decipher what tuna is truly safe to eat (if any are at all), I would plead with any company claiming environmentally consciousness to desist in recommending people eat tuna (or any fish for that matter). All species of tuna are over-fished or, for some, their capture can endanger other species (sea turtles, marlin, rays, etc). All can contain some level of mercury and since it accumulates in the body, all potential mercury sources should be avoided. Fish are NOT essential for good health as one can easily get the same nutrients from other less threatened sources. Thank you.
05/11/2009 10:26:21 AM CDT
John says ...
Anyone use flaxseed in their smoothies? If so what do you find to be the best form?
05/11/2009 10:33:53 AM CDT
Anne Windholtz says ...
Flaxseed and walnuts in a smoothie with yogurt added. Studies have been done that show yogurt and flaxseed together are especially healthful in our diet.
05/11/2009 11:30:41 AM CDT
Phyllis says ...
This is a great article. I appreciate WF for providing such good content on this and other topics. Keep up the good work!
05/12/2009 5:05:58 PM CDT
James M. says ...
@John - I use a tablespoon of FiProFLAX in my smoothies. You can find it in most WF stores. It is a cold milled organic ground flax seed. Just make sure you keep it refrigerated after opening. http://www.healthfromthesun.com/products/product_description.php?id_detail=33&id_besoin=1&id_gamme=3&mode=1&acces=product_range.php
05/16/2009 10:35:56 AM CDT
Sandy says ...
Very informative! I discovered that my husband, who takes blood thinners, should be on a diet that introduces more Omega 3s into his regimen. He will ck w/his doc this month re this. Great sounding recipe using those black beans etc. TYVM to you and WF
05/17/2009 11:55:50 AM CDT
James M. says ...
@Julie Here's a great article on selecting fish high in Omega-3s without the risk of mercury poisoning. http://www.ultrawellness.com/blog/fish-mercury
05/18/2009 12:15:28 PM CDT
James M. says ...
Chia Seeds vs. Flax Seeds http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=242&utm_source=rss_reader&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rss_feed
05/18/2009 8:00:01 PM CDT
M says ...
Not sold at WF--but Smart Balance peanut butter is fortified with Omega-3s and has flax oil in it, and it tastes great. I haven't tried their other products (butter, etc.), but I would guess that they're also fortified. Thanks for the informative article!
05/22/2009 8:47:13 PM CDT
Nyomi says ...
An inspiring and well written article. I particularly like your ideas for increasing the amount of omega 3 in the diet. I've read that pumpkin seeds are also a good source of omega-3.
06/03/2009 2:34:06 AM CDT
Jesus Michel says ...
CHIA SEED WHAT is it? CHIA is a very small seed, native to Mexico, that contains the highest known natural source of Omega 3 and is rich in Dietary Fiber, Calcium, Protein, Iron and some Antioxidants. In Mexico, it is well known to have it with lemonade. If we only knew how nutritious it is to drink water or flavored water with some chia seeds, we would consider to include them in our daily food intake as a food complement. USes Chia seeds do not require washing or grinding. It can be consumed in the amount any person like. It can be added to lemonades, salads, yoghurt, fruit cocktails, bakery, and desserts. It has no odor, does not add color, and has a smooth and friendly taste. OMEGA 3: These are essential fatty acids that contribute in diverse vital processes in our body and not just provide energy or calories. Their main functions are: ~ Act as an energy reserve ~ Contribute in cell membrane formation ~ Improve blood pressure ~ Reduce negative impact of Omega 6 excess
11/23/2009 2:43:01 PM CST
06/27/2010 10:37:44 AM CDT
Gene's Girl says ...
We've been adding chia seeds to salads, smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, etc. Besides the omega 3, since these little seeds "swell" they tend to make you feel fuller too...and they have fiber
03/20/2012 11:51:40 AM CDT