The alpha and omega concept representing the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet holds significant meaning and symbolism. For many, the Alpha and Omega symbols represent God, eternity, or the beginning and end of life and humankind. This concept is also defined as “the most important part; the basic or essential element or elements.”
When it comes to nutrition, omega fatty acids are aptly named. Also referred to as Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) or the "good fats”, omega fatty acids are necessary fats that humans cannot manufacture; thus they must be obtained through food. One can easily see that these fats are certainly an “essential element” of good health. The human body needs them for many functions, ranging from building healthy cells to maintaining brain and nerve function.
Before delving deeper, let’s demystify EFAs. Fatty acids are simply the components of fat. There are two types of essential fatty acids: omega‐3 and omega‐6 fatty acids. Omega‐9 is a necessary, but “non‐essential” fatty acid because it can be produced by the body if the other fatty acids are present. The first fatty acid, Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the principal omega‐3 fatty acid. The body converts ALA to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenic acid (DHA), which it then utilizes.
Now that we have the basics, here’s the issue: a significant portion of the American population is terribly deficient in omega‐3 fats, and consumes far too much omega‐6 fats. This toxic imbalance is a primary contributor to our current health crisis. The suggested ratio of omega‐3 to omega‐6 is 1:1 or 1:2. However, the typical American diet is estimated at 1:20 or more!
The best sources of omega‐3 fats are chia and flax seeds, flax seed oil, and raw walnuts. One tablespoon of flax oil or seeds (keep refrigerated) per day provides the adequate daily portion. Other omega‐3 sources include non‐fried fish and fish oils, kale, collards, and winter squash. Omega‐6s are found in seeds and nuts and their oils, as well as refined vegetable oils (i.e., corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower), which are commonly used in most snack foods, cookies, crackers, sweets, and fast food.
An omega‐3 deficiency can result in fatigue, poor memory, Type 2 Diabetes, dry skin, brittle hair and nails, heart problems, mood swings or depression, inability to concentrate, and poor circulation. Overconsumption of omega‐6 fatty acids results in inflammation, the process known as the root cause of most chronic diseases. For example, most common forms of heart disease, arthritis, obesity and diabetes are driven by inflammation.
Conversely, omega‐3 fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation, prevent cancer cell growth, keep your blood from clotting excessively, inhibit thickening of the arteries, reduce risk of obesity by improving the body’s ability to respond to insulin, and lowers the risk of other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and arthritis.
Some people have difficulty converting ALA to DHA, thus many choose to supplement their diet with fish oil that contains DHA and requires no conversion. However, sea vegetable (algae) sources of DHA are available and recommended over fish oil. Fish obtain DHA by eating algae. So why not go to the source and get it first‐hand? Supplementation can be used in conjunction with the food sources of omega‐3 fats. Apparently because omega‐6 is much more plentiful in the standard American diet, it usually requires no supplementation.
Here are a few simple changes you can make to balance your omega fatty acids:
Reduce the use of oils and condiments high in omega‐6 fats (corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, margarines, mayonnaise, and salad dressings).
Eliminate or greatly reduce processed foods, which almost always contain the oils noted above as well as trans‐fats.
Switch from butter, cream, and refined oils to extra virgin olive oil and flax oil
Add more omega‐3 fats
Add raw cashews or almonds to vegetable stir‐fries
Top salads with walnuts and/or drizzle with flax or olive oil
Make your own trail mix with raisins, pumpkin seeds, and raw nuts
Add a tablespoon of flax seed oil to smoothies or salad dressings, or drizzle over vegetables after cooking. Do not heat flax oil; high heat destroys the ALA in omega‐3s
Add flax seeds or chia seeds to smoothies or sprinkle ground flax seeds on top of salads, healthy cereals and other foods (flax seeds should be ground up in a blender or coffee grinder just before use).
Given the significance of the alphas and omegas, let’s give them the reverence they deserve in our daily diet. They can be the beginning or the end of your health and life!