Staying youthful is not only about lotions and potions, Botox and lights; I always believe that lifestyle and diet play essential roles. I stress repeatedly that exercise, fruits, adequate sleep and being tobacco free are also part and parcel of staying young.There are anti-aging supplements galore: from vitamins, to berry extracts, to whatever you can think of, but if there is only one dietary supplement which you are going to take, please make it Omega 3 oils.
What’s the big deal?
Scientists have known that Omega 3 fats are essential for the healthy development of tissues and brain cells since the 1930s. In the 1970s, scientists started looking at their ability to prevent heart disease (they noticed the Eskimos have very low rates of coronary artery disease although they eat lots of fatty seafood). More recently, however, scientists are also beginning to realize that Omega 3 fats have other amazing properties: they not only guard against heart disease but also high cholesterol and cancer 1 , and may even have anti-aging effects on the skin!
With no shortage of food in the developed world, we should logically be getting a ready supply of Omega 3 fats right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, what we are consuming today is not the same as what our grandparents used to eat. Our modern diet is full of saturated fats, trans-fats, and even majority of the polyunsaturated fats we consume are the Omega-6 fats, not the Omega 3 fats.
Omega 6 fats vs. Omega 3 fats
Omega 6 fats are found in plant oils, such as soybean, palm oils. Omega 6 fats promote inflammation, while Omega 3 are anti-inflammatory. The two closely related molecules are, in fact competing against each other enter our cells, so an excess of one will mean a deficiency of the other.
Unfortunately, the amount of Omega 3 fats we consume have been replaced by Omega 6 fats over the past few decades. In the 1970s, vegetable seed oils such as palm oil began to be widely used as they were thought to be healthy 2 . At around the same time, scientists discovered that processed foods such as cookies and cakes can be kept fresh longer by removing the Omega 3 oils, and by using hydrogenated vegetable oils, hence compounding the problem by eliminating Omega 3, and also introducing trans fats, a by-product of hydrogenation, into our diets!
Consume more Omega 3 and Less Omega 6!
The easiest way is increase your Omega 3 intake to take supplements. Omega 3 fat supplements (DHA, EPA) can easily be found these days.
I always believe in consuming the goodies in their natural state, so eating more fish and leafy vegetables are, in my opinion, the best way. Consume fish at least 3 times a week, and supplement your meals with lots of leafy vegetables such as spinach and choi sum (Omega 3 fats are found in the leaves of vegetables while Omega 6 is found in the seeds).
Consume whole mean grains (e.g. brown rice, wholemeal bread) rather than their ‘white’ counterparts as the refining process strips the grains of most essential nutrients and, yes, the precious omega 3 fats.
Eat less processed foods – cookies, cakes, packet snacks, and especially, fast food.
Use canola and olive oil, which have a respectable Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio, for cooking rather than palm, corn, soy or sunflower oils.
When you buy foods, read the labels to make sure that they do not contain trans fats.
It’s a long article, and I want to end off with one of my mantras (note to close friends: stop rolling your eyes!):
When you eat something, please try to consume it in a state as close as possible to how it was naturally derived, whether it is from the soil, land, or sea.
1: Effect of a dietary intervention and n- fatty acid supplementation on measures of serum lipid and insulin sensitivity in persons with HIV by
Woods MN, Wanke CA, Ling PR, Hendricks KM, Tang AM, Knox TA, Andersson CE, Dong KR, Skinner SC, Bistrian BR.
2: Omega-3 deficiency may be hurting our hearts by Susan Allport