Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are three nutritionally significant omega-3 fatty acids which are extracted from different sources.
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) obtained from plants
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Out of the three, the later two are found in animals. ALA later gets metabolized to EPA and DHA. Recommended dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids is suggested to be 1 - 2 g per day.
Plants sources of ALA:
Flaxseeds - They are known as alsi in Hindi, Aviselu in Telugu, and Agasi in Kannada. The oil extracted from these seeds is the richest source of ALA.
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Soy beans - The oil extracted from these seeds also contains ALA but in a lesser concentration when compared to omega-6 fatty acids.
Perilla - This is an annual herb which belongs to the mint family.
Chia - It is a flowering plant native to central and southern Mexico and belongs to the mint family. Its seeds are used for extraction of oils. These seeds can also be taken raw. The sprouts of these seeds are very nutritious and taken as salads along with sandwiches. Soaked chia seeds can be used in porridges and puddings.
Hemp - Hemp is a common name used for Cannabis plant. These seeds can be consumed raw as sprouts or can be converted into milk similar to soy milk. This can be used to prepare hemp tofu or a non dairy ice-cream.
Walnuts - They can be directly consumed as they are rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts are high in calories too. So moderation in consumption is advised.
Animal sources of ALA:
Few varieties of cold water fish have been found to be rich in ALA. They are Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel etc. So the fish oils extracted from these sources can form an important component of our diet.
The thylakoid membranes of green plants with broad leaves also have a high proportion of ALA. Hence animals which consume these plants are also a good source of ALA.
Sources of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Nutritionally significant omega-6 fatty acids are Linoleic acid and Arachidonic acid. They are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs. The Linoleic acid gets converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) within our body. They act as precursors for prostaglandins and are vital for healthy brain functioning.
A large number of vegetable oils have been found to be rich in omega-6 fatty acids and few of them are:
Cotton seed oil
Evening primrose oil
Note: Although these oils are rich in essential fatty acids it is advised to avoid the consumption of refined and hydrogenated versions of these oils as they are injurious to health.
Some other plant sources which are rich in omega-6 fatty acids are:
Other poultry products like chicken.
The Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3
Clinical studies have shown that maintenance of n-6 / n-3 ratio within the range of 1:1 to 1:4 is very essential for healthy heart condition and prevents inflammation which leads to type-2 diabetes. A large variety of diseases like cancer, arthritis, obesity, asthma, depression, are also associated with the imbalance in the ratio of n-6 / n-3. Although both are essential fats and have to be obtained from our diet, a search for healthier source of omega-6 fatty acids having a considerable amount of omega-3 fatty acid is advisable.
An individual's intake is expected to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids. This was possible in olden days when the availability of processed foods was less and people used to feed more on fresh vegetables and whole grains. Poultry animals and cattle used to graze on naturally available fresh grass and green leaves which are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. We used to get them naturally from animal products like meat, eggs, and milk. The modern man depends more on fast foods and almost every cereal, seed or grains of pulses are processed in many steps. At each step, food item becomes easier for consumption but at the cost of loss of certain vital nutrients. The food processing techniques increase the concentration of omega-6 fatty acids in the foods. The deep fried items like chips etc are prepared using vegetable oils. Hence it is advisable to take natural foods in the raw form.
Selection Criteria for Intake of Fats:
Avoid saturated fats as far as possible
Choice of an apt polyunsaturated fat is a wise decision to be taken
Try to take foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like whole-grains, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Non-vegetarians can supplement their diet with fish.
Try to minimize the intake of processed and fast foods.
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