So a couple of things to break down here. Let’s start with the idea of fats as a whole before going into fish oils.
Fats have a variety of uses in our bodies and play a crucial role in many biochemical processes. Fats are the building blocks for the cell membrane’s lipid bilayer. Every single one of our cells is wrapped in a coating made mostly of fat.
Lipids have a number of functions, including:
· Creating a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. They are incorporated in many of the chemical messengers that allow cells to communicate with each other.
· Allow for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).
· Provide us with energy (9kcal/g of fat; 4kcal/g of protein or carbohydrate).
· Fat coats the nerves in our bodies, allowing us to think, react, move, and perform any activity we can think of.
· Fats are required for proper absorption of minerals.
· Protects organs.
· A myriad of other metabolic processes.
Lipids are responsible for a vast number of functions in the body. They are not readily given up and used as energy in the body. Mostly glucose and glycogen stores will be used up before fats are broken down for energy. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense: Early humans went long periods without food. Fat stores were used as energy during these times.
Now, not all fats are created equal, and quality is of utmost importance. Remember, since fats make up a portion of every single human cell, what we end up consuming can ultimately end up incorporated in each of our cells. The construction of our cells can alter their function for better or worse over time.
Avoid all processed oils and hydrogenated fats. They will do nothing but deplete vitamin and mineral stores and increase the chances of developing a serious disease.
Stick to traditional oils, like cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, fatty fish (like salmon or mackerel), nuts & seeds, and others listed on the shopping list provided. Try to enjoy whole eggs, the yolks contain good fats and other essential nutrients not found in the whites.
If you are cooking high-quality meats, do not be afraid to eat the fat pieces attached to the bones (occasionally). These parts include high levels of collagen. The main structural protein found in connective tissue like skin and muscles.
Be sure to invest in quality products, as they go a long way in improving your health in the short and long term.
Quality… that is going to be key when it comes to fish oils as well.
Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids, meaning you must get them from food. Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is used to make other fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Unfortunately, some people lack the enzymes needed for this conversion to take place.
On top of this, many people do not get enough ALA from food, which has led to a nationwide deficiency in a sense. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, fish oils, nuts, seeds, and vegetables naturally. Sea vegetables, like kelp and nori, actually contain EPA and DHA, while land vegetables only contain the precursor, ALA. Flax seeds, nuts, and other seeds contain high amounts of ALA. Typical diets of Americans tend to be much lower in DHA and EPA in particular. Instead, they tend to contain much higher numbers of omega-6 fatty acids, thus leading to omega-3 deficiencies.
An imbalanced omega-3:6 ratio can lead to increased inflammation, altered immune function, increased insulin resistance, and increases susceptibility to cellular damage via free radicals. When this ratio is corrected (and the correct ratio ranges from 1:1, which is ideal, to about 1:3), the opposite effects occur.
When it comes to choosing an omega-3 supplements, purity and quality are issues, especially if you are choosing a fish oil supplement. Heavy metals like mercury and other pollutants can be found in a variety of marine life, and these can all lead to increased cancer risk if they are ingested in high amounts.
That being said, these toxic substances can be extracted, along with DHA, EPA, and other carcinogens that can be dangerous to your health. Another thing to be aware of along with the source of fish oils is the freshness of it. Fish oils can go rancid, and thus have their health benefits skewed. You can tell if your fish oils are rancid if they develop a strong, fishy odor. Once opening a bottle, keep it refrigerated.
If you are purchasing a DHA or EPA supplement (or really any supplement for that matter), check the labels for a third party certification quality seal.When it comes to fish oils, it is worth it to delve deep into how the fish is sourced and what potential carcinogens may be in the supplements. Call manufacturers, and ask what goes into making them. Alternatively, knowledgeable health care providers have access to other forms of supplements the general public does not have access to, and are held to higher standards.
It is also really important to help find this balance through the foods we eat. Particularly if your consuming a Standard American Diet, you are short on EPA and DHA, and need to substitute the animal fats with more fish and fish eggs, along with cutting out other inflammatory processed foods.
We talk about fish oils in a few of our podcasts. I can link them below.
I hope this helps!