As you know, Quebec is a region of the world where bodies of water are bountiful. However, most residents of La Belle Province (84%) do not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids of marine origin.
Some Quebec researchers noted that 81% of women and 89% of men in the province have an intake of omega-3s of marine origin inferior to the recommended 500 mg per day. On the other hand, the typical Western diet is much too rich in omega-6s.
But why all the fuss about omega-3s? What is the difference between omega-3s and omega-6s?
Omega-3s and omega-6s are fatty acids deemed essential, because the human body cannot produce them on its own and must therefore get them from food sources. These fatty acids participate in myriad important processes such as the functioning of the cardiovascular system, the brain and hormonal system, as well as regulating inflammatory processes. We also know that polyunsaturated fatty acids, the family to which omega-3s and omega-6s belong, have a protective effect against several heart diseases. They can also decrease the symptoms of certain illnesses of the nervous system such as epilepsy, depression and manic-depressive psychosis. When taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding stages, omega-3s can also assist in a child’s mental development.
Omega-3s are mainly found in colza, soybean, nut and flaxseed oils, as well as in the flesh of fatty fish. Omega-6 fatty acids are much more abundant in today’s foods (corn, sunflower, soybean, carthame and grape seed oils, animal fats and egg yolks, to name a few).
Industrialization has dramatically transformed the diet of Western populations, considerably decreasing the intake of omega-3s. Consequently, cold-pressed oils were replaced by more stable and refined oils that definitely contain inferior amounts of omega-3s. In addition, the consumption of fish has decreased while that of refined products rich in omega-6 has increased. This is why it is often estimated that the omega-6/omega-3 ratio in the Western diet is now 1/1 to 30/1, when it ought to be 1/1 to 4/1. When consumed in excess, omega-6 fatty acids prevent the system from effectively using omega-3s. This imbalance can promote, among other things, conditions favourable to cardiovascular diseases and allergy and inflammatory problems.
According to many experts, returning to a diet richer in omega-3s and less so in omega-6s, would have a positive impact on the cardiovascular health of Western populations and would also reduce inflammatory diseases. You should take advantage of this knowledge to increase your consumption of fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines (at least two portions per week). It is also recommended to choose cold-pressed oils over refined oils, and to integrate omega-3s from vegetable sources such as flaxseed and soy.
For the past few years, many omega-3 enriched foods such as “omega-3 eggs” can be found at your local supermarket. These eggs come from hens whose feed is enriched with flaxseed, multiplying their omega-3 content by a tenfold, compared to regular eggs. Although these types of enriched foods can be valuable sources of omega-3s, they should not be your exclusive resources.
Remember that a varied diet comprised of the different food groups will help you stay on your toes!