Monday, November 02, 2009

Omega-3 Good, Omega-6 Not So Good!

According to the Economist:
The problem of dubious nutrition and health claims for foodstuffs is now being addressed on both sides of the Atlantic. America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on October 20th that it would overhaul the regulation of such claims on food labels and issue new standards early next year. In the European Union, meanwhile, a legislative process that began in 2006 is grinding towards its conclusion.
It goes on to note:
It is not every day that an international consortium of concerned lipid scientists gets upset, but just such a group, rallied by Jack Winkler of the Nutrition Policy Unit at London Metropolitan University, is on the warpath. The group says the regulation of omega-3s that has been adopted so far has no foundation in science, will legalise the deception of consumers and will make public health worse. The problem, in the group’s view, is that companies are now allowed to claim that a product is rich in omega-3s irrespective of whether these are long-chain or short-chain molecules.
Clearly people in the United States (and in many other rich countries) are eating too much, and eating the wrong things. Our evolved responses to food don't protect us from our own affluence, not to mention the blandishments of the food and fast food industries. Government regulation is a help, but we have to learn to control our consumption with reason and knowledge. Unfortunately, scientific knowledge about nutrition is difficult to create, and worse hard for most of us to understand!

THE best ways to get enough “good” (ie, long-chain) omega-3 oils are either to eat lots of oily fish or to take, every day, supplements that contain at least 500mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or both (though some studies have suggested as much as 1,100mg a day is better). Products that contain short-chain omega-3s, such as alpha-linolenic acid from plant oils like flax-seed oil, have not been linked with the strong health benefits shown by fish oils.

Having got enough long-chain oils, though, it is important to let them do their work. That means reducing consumption of omega-6 oils—those found in maize, sunflower, olive and most other seed oils. Many people have turned to these seed oils as a way of reducing their intake of saturated fats, but omega-6 fatty acids compete in the body with omega-3s, since the two have similar chemical properties. The best dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is reckoned to be less than 4:1. In Western diets, it is typically more like 10:1. The message, then, is: eat less fat and get more of it from fish. And those who buy omega-3 supplements that also contain omega-6s are probably wasting their money.

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