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Diet April 2019

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Decoding the Omega’s!!

Everywhere that one turns around, one hears about the vast benefits of eating “A” particular kind of food or “B” kind of food. Someone or the other at social gatherings is always swearing by the latest or the newest “IT” food that's “MUST” be consumed to reap those all so important benefits it can provide. Amongst all this clamour one often misses out on some key nutrients which really do have a lot of supportive scientific data regarding their health benefits. Well, actually omega fatty acids or as they are  more commonly known to the general public at large as “Omega 3’s & 6’s”, were in fact one of those “IT” nutrients not so long ago.

I get many patients coming to me who are very confused with all the chatter and want to know what really is good and in how much proportion. Let’s start with understanding what is Omega 3 and 6 and how is it beneficial to us. Firstly, apart from omega 3 and 6, there’s omega 9 as well. Omega fatty acids are of two types – essential and non-essential. Essential fatty acids are more important as they cannot be made by the body and therefore must be got through food or supplemented to fulfill its requirement. Omega 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids as they cannot be made in the body. These both are also known as PUFA’s or polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Non-essential fatty acids are the ones which can be made in the body and therefore may not necessarily be needed from an external source. Omega 9 fatty acid is non-essential as it can be made in small amounts within the body.It is also known as MUFA or monounsaturated fatty acids. 

Omega 3:
Of all the three, probably the most important fatty acid is omega 3. Part of the essential fatty acid family, omega 3 has numerous health benefits. It’s an antioxidant and helps to reduce the inflammation in the body and thereby help in the prevention and treatment of several diseases. They play a vital role in fighting chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, several types of cancers. They help to reduce cholesterol levels in the system, help in dealing with the effects of aging, promote brain health during pregnancy and early life, and prevent blood clotting. There is a lot of research supporting the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids in depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is evidence to show its beneficial effects in postpartum depression and kids suffering from ADHD.

Common Food Sources:Walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, fatty fish like pomfret and hilsa.

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Omega 6:
The other essential fatty acid, omega 6like omega 3 fatty acids has numerous health benefits. It plays a critical role in brain health – both of the foetus as well as in early life of the child. It has an important gene regulating effect, helps lower LDL and improve HDL levels in the body, improves insulin sensitivity among several other benefits. Currently, most often our eating pattern has more quantities of omega 6 fatty acids in comparison with omega 3. There are researches which suggest that disproportionate amounts of omega 6 in the diet can increase inflammation in the body.Hence it is very important that the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 intake is carefully maintained.  This becomes critical since most often there are ample unhealthy sources of omega 6 entering our system through junk foods. 
Common Food Sources: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, sunflower oil, safflower oil.

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Omega 9:
Omega 9 fatty acid can be made in the body in small amounts and so it falls in the category of non – essential fatty acid. It is used in the body when the other fatty acids – omega 3 and 6 are not present in the body in adequate amounts. They too have huge health benefits like reducing the buildup of plaque in the arteries, reducing insulin resistance, boosting the immune system, mood improvement and energy increase being a few. However, it’s important to remember that chronically low levels of omega 3 and 6 can cause severe complications in the body.
Common food Sources: Avocado, olives, almonds, mustard seed, macadamia nuts, cashews.

Maintaining the ratio of each omega fatty acid to the other is important. Pick healthy sources of omega 3, 6 and 9 and to avoid harmful cooking oils. With all this information regarding all the different omegas, the take home message would be, ensure larger quantities of omega 3 rich food sources are present in the diet than omega 3 and 9.
Happy eating!

We at My Powai are taking our reader’s queries related to Diet & Nutrition, which Ms. Nisha Singh will reply to in our forthcoming issues. 
You can send your questions at: dietnutrition.queries@gmail.com

We at My Powai are now taking our reader’s queries related to Diet & Nutrition, which Ms. Nisha Singh will reply to in our forthcoming issues. 
You can send your questions at: dietnutrition.queries@gmail.com

(The writer is a gold medalist in Food & Nutrition with more than 12 years experience. She manages various ailments through lifestyle and dietary modifications and specializes in weight loss & management. She practices at   102, Crystal Center, Raheja Vihar, Powai or Smile Craft, 23, Annapurna Industrial estate, Opp. CCD, Ghatkopar East. For appointments: 022 2857 6537 Email: singhnisha@gmail.com)