(NaturalNews) Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are the only essential fats that humans need from dietary sources. Although studies are inconsistent, some evidence indicates that consuming more omega-3s relative to omega-6s could be beneficial to the cardiovascular system and possibly have other health benefits as well. A common strategy to get more omega-3s is to eat fish. A new mainstream twist is to have genetically modified soy produce a substance with a chemical structure similar to fish oil. Ground flaxseed is a superior alternative to either of these.
Animals cannot make either omega- 6 or omega-3 fats, so they must get these essentials from plants. Since wild fish eat omega-3-rich wild plants (or eat other fish that ate wild plants), these animals have relatively high amounts of omega-3 fats stored in their bodies. That is why wild fish and fish oil are high in omega-3s. In fact, the original source of this nutrient is marine algae.
Fish and fish oil supplements have numerous problems of their own, which can outweigh any omega-3 benefits. Fish are a concentrated source of heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and cholesterol. Even the so-called pure or distilled brands of fish oil capsules have been found to contain dangerous persistent organic pollutants (toxic manmade chemicals that accumulate in the environment).
Even more concerning, overfishing and pollution are driving numerous fish species to extinction. Over 90% of the large fish in the oceans have been destroyed. There are not enough fish left in degraded ecosystems to supply omega-3s to seven billion people on the planet.
Industry is now getting ready to push genetically modified soy, engineered to produce long-chain omega-3 fats, as another choice. The resulting soy oil can be added to an endless list of processed foods in order to "enrich" them with omega-3s. Considering the hazards of GMOs, this could be viewed as presenting just another disastrous alternative.
This GMO soy has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at generally recognized as safe status (GRAS). However, the FDA is still pending approval for farmers to grow these soybeans in open fields.
Ground flax seed is the solution for consumers wanting to avoid persistent organic pollutants, depleting sea life, and genetically modified oils. This low-cost, mild tasting powder is easily sprinkled on a variety of foods, from oatmeal to salads to smoothies. A month supply, buying organic, is about $2 and the plant is easily and sustainably grown.
The popular press has raised concerns that humans cannot convert the short-chain omega-3s in flax and other foods (such as walnuts and chia seeds) into the long-chain forms the body actually uses. A recent study out of Europe proves this concern is unfounded. Research on over 14,000 adults found that those on a 100% plant-based diet had circulating levels of long-chain omega-3s comparable to the levels of those who ate large amounts of fish. The researchers theorize that the body becomes more efficient at producing long-chain omega-3s when less is eaten.
In addition, ground flax seed is packed with fiber. As a final bonus, flax is high in lignans, a phytochemical (beneficial plant-based nutrient) that is protective against breast and prostate cancer. A target amount is two tablespoons a day of ground flax seed to get all the omega-3s required.
Welch, AA, et al, Dietary intake and status of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in a population of fish-eating and non-fish-eating meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans, American Journal Clinical Nutrition, 92(5): 1040-51, 2010
About the author
Janice Stanger, Ph.D., is the author of The Perfect Formula Diet: How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy Now With Six Kinds of Whole Foods. Learn which whole foods are the key to health at her site http://perfectformuladiet.com.