Fat's Fantastic

Omega-3 is the one fat we don't get enough of - and the one we can't live without


Posted: 18 November 2009

At this moment, the chances are you have a dietary deficiency that's harming your health, hindering your recovery and holding you back in training. Even if you pop a multivitamin and get the recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals, you're unlikely to be consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Essential PUFAs come in two forms: omega-6 and omega-3. Your body can't make or store either, so you have to include them in your diet.

Omega-6s are found in vegetable oils and are plentiful in most processed foods. Omega-3s aren't so easy to come by. They're found in small amounts in nuts (which also contain omega-6 acids) and some plants, but the best source of complete omega-3 fatty acids (without omega-6s, too) is oily fish such as salmon and mackerel.

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for the development of the body, from generating healthy cells to forming the building blocks that make up your brain and eyes. They also fight infection and excessive inflammation.

One of the roles of omega-6 is inflammation, which, in a healthy body, is a reaction to injury and disease, but too much omega-6 can lead to chronic inflammation. Ideally, we should be eating a one-to-one ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. In reality, the ratio is more likely to be closer to one to 25. This imbalance may lead to health problems such as heart disease, arthritis and macular degeneration.

"Unless you're making a concentrated effort, and that means eating fish several times a week, you're not getting enough omega-3s," says Leslie Bonci, one of the authors of Total Fitness for Women.

"What do we athletes do instead? We go straight for anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen. What we should be doing is aiming for 1,000g to 2,000mg of omega-3 a day. Usually I urge people to get nutrients from food, but in this case it's easier and more effective to take a fish-oil supplement, because eating too much fish raises concerns about mercury."


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