Omega-3s from Plants
Omega-3s from Plants
Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
Many people know that they can get the healthful omega-3 fatty acids
from fish, but the omega-3 fatty acids in seeds such as whole grains
may be even more important in maintaining your health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the least stable fats in our diet. Whole
grains contain vitamin E to keep the omega-3s fresh and prevent them
from turning rancid, but omega-3 fatty acids in fish are not
protected by vitamin E and therefore turn rancid very quickly.
Three huge studies, The Lyon Heart Study, the GISSI Prevenzione
Trial, and in The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Study have
established that omega-3 fish oils help to prevent heart attacks and
reduce pain and swelling in diseases such as arthritis, psoriasis,
and possibly even asthma. Recent research shows that the omega-3
alpha linoleic acids in seeds, nuts, beans and whole grain may be as
necessary as the omega-3s in fish oils to prevent heart attacks.
Omega-3s found in fish oils are mostly long chain fatty acids.
Omega-3s in plants, particularly seeds, contain much shorter chains
and are weaker than the omega-3s found in fish. However, the shorter
chain omega-3s, particularly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in
leafy greens and seeds are converted to the long chain fatty acids
in the human body. Long- chain fish omega-3s enter blood and cells
more rapidly and produce more rapid effects than short chain plant
Over the long haul, humans must get omega-3s from plants, as well as
fish, because all omega-3s break down very quickly when exposed to
oxygen in your body, and you need large amounts of vitamin E to
prevent omega-3s from turning rancid. Fish oils are extremely low in
vitamin E, while virtually every seed or plant source of omega-3s is
loaded also with vitamin E. So your body stores far more short chain
omega-3s from plants in your body fat.
Dietary fats are classified by their chemical structure into
saturated, polyunsaturated and mono unsaturated. The polyunsaturated
fats are further sub-classified into omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats prevent heart attacks and high blood
pressure by helping thin blood, relax arteries and prevent clotting.
Over millions of years, humans have consumed a diet that contained
approximately equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty
acids, but over the past 150 years, humans have increased their
consumption of omega-6s by using large amounts of vegetable oils
from the seeds of corn, sunflower, safflower, cotton and soybeans.
These oils are used in most prepared foods, frozen foods,
margarines, French fries, potato chips, and bakery products. Today
Americans eat a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids
that is almost 20 times higher in omega-6s than omega-3s, instead of
the optimal ratio of about 2:1. To meet your needs for short chain
omega-3 fatty acids found in plants, eat lots of green leafy
vegetables, and seeds such as flaxseed, whole grains, beans and
Omega-3 fatty acids in wild plants, nuts and seeds. Asia Pacific
Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002, Vol 11, Suppl. 6, pp S163-S173.
AP Simopoulos. Simopoulos AP, Ctr Genet Nutr & Hlth, 2001 S St, NW,
Suite 530, Washington,DC 20009 USA