I imagine you've been bombarded with messages about how bad fat is for you... yet some fats are good for you. So which are which? I'm hoping to help you get to grips with it all, and explain the benefits of Omega-3 in particular.
Why would I want to talk about the benefits of Omega-3 on my relationship advice site?
Well, if your body is starved of essential nutrients then it's under stress. A stressed body equals a stressed mind - even if you're not always aware of it.
Stress has huge consequences for your physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. And of course the health of your relationship is linked to all of these. Everything that you do to nurture yourself will directly - and indirectly - benefit your relationship too.
Omega-3 is an essential unsaturated fatty acid. 'Essential' here means that your body cannot produce (synthesise) it by itself - so it has to come from your food.
Fats make up 60% of your brain, in the same way that water makes up 80% of your body. Without water, we die. Without the right fats, your brain at the very least fails to function at its optimum level.
You may be asking yourself: "If that's so, then why are the fats in my potato chips, biscuits, cakes etc. so bad? Why doesn't my body/brain benefit from those?"
The simple answer is that there are no beneficial fats in those foods. (Actually, I'm afraid to say that their only 'benefit' is a very temporary feeling of satisfaction!)
Your cakes, biscuits, pastries and takeaways (or "take-outs") are very likely to contain trans-fats (Google it!). The chemical structure of these fats is at odds with what your body expects and desperately needs.
In the absence of healthy fats, your body will use trans-fats 'building blocks' in your brain. However, your brain has to work much harder to process these. The chemical structure of these fats is incompatible with your body's requirements.
So, your brain's energy expenditure increases to overcome the disadvantage of working of with poor quality, wrongly-shaped materials. This means your brain's ability to function and communicate effectively is compromised.
Nerve cells in your brain communicate by way of neurotransmitters. These are the chemical 'messengers' that convey 'messages' from one nerve cell to another. Have a look at this video to see them at work...
Nutrients provide the fuel for the fire in the nerve cells. But they have difficulty passing the membrane (the mesh covering the nerve cell) if it's constructed from poor quality (trans) fats.
Trans-fats therefore make it difficult for your neurons to branch out and lay the road necessary for the transport of messages.
In addition, trans-fats decrease the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. Is it any wonder that when you're deficient in Omega-3, you're missing out on all of its benefits? And this puts you at risk not only of depression, but a plethora of other problems too.
You know yourself that when you're ill, you're more likely to feel mentally and emotionally fragile.
So where does Omega-3 fit in? Just think about the following...
How much more efficient does this make your car? And would you not have significantly reduced your chances of a breakdown?
Whilst you can't replace your parts, when you eat the right foods (including the right fats) your brain and body 'run' much better too.
Note: Animal fats are particularly good for you, according to Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, if you have symptoms that point to ADD, ADHD, Asperger's and autism. (I am not a fan of labels, but at least they do provide a short cut to some sort of understanding).
Further down I've provided a list of foods that contain Omega-3 which I hope will make it super easy for you to find a starting point.
Omega-3 is the subject of numerous studies. Since our understanding of how the body works is improving all the time, it helps to keep an eye on developments.
Make sure though you also visit my page on omega 3 side-effects.
Here are some of the generally recognised Omega-3 benefits:
The average American adult gets less than 1g of Omega 3 fatty acids per day. However, the recommended daily amount, especially for people who are suffering from depression, is reported to be somewhere between 2-4g.
Some doctors even recommend higher doses. (I'm getting a mental image of you turning up your nose at the thought of spoonfuls of oil and huge capsules!)
Omega-3 consists of two primary - and very important - fatty acids. Take a deep breath before you read this: one is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and the other is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is especially beneficial for depression.
I know... I can't pronounce them either - let alone remember them!
Here is a list of EPA and DHA Omega 3 sources to help you shop:
ALA (also an important fat) is found in plant sources. (Note: The conversion from ALA to DHA varies between individuals, therefore eating fish or fish oils is essential!) Here are some more omega 3 sources:
If you want to beat depression for example, choose the right foods that contain Omega 3. It beats taking antidepressants with their multiple side-effects and potential damage to your brain - if they work at all.
Remember: your personal wellbeing contributes to the health of your relationship!
In Greenland, Eskimos consume 7-10g per day of long-chain Omega-3s (DHA and EPA) and know virtually no depression. (Or at least, those who have been able to hold on to their traditional life-style of course).
Yet Eskimos spend much of their waking time in the dark with little exposure to sunlight.
Why is that significant?
Well, you yourself may well be aware of how much better you feel in the summer than in the winter. For more on this, have a look at my page about Fish Oil and Depression. The right food can really help you if you're suffering from depression.
Many people simply don't like the taste of fish. Others have, understandably, avoided both fish and fish oil because of an allergy. Some are worried about toxins in fish such as mercury, lead and PCBs.
Perhaps you are taking omega-3 supplements, like many other health conscious individuals, or perhaps you're thinking about doing so.
At the very least, try to avoid the cheapest stuff on the market. Some fish oils have been extracted by chemical or mechanical means. It may have been heated or otherwise spoiled.
So, do your research carefully - there are plenty of good quality omega-3 supplements available. But always remember: the key is a healthy, balanced diet - so never rely on supplements to the exclusion of a variety of foods that naturally contain the nutrients you need.