Omega 3’s and pregnancy

Oily fish is also good for pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding but experts advise them to stick to 2 portions a week. The reason for this is that oily fish contains low levels of pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s). These pollutants don’t have an immediate impact but they become harmful as they build up within our bodies over a period of time.

As a result of this, pregnant women are advised to limit their oily fish consumption to a safe level which will minimise the risk of these pollutants.

If you are pregnant then don’t stop eating oily fish altogether. The health benefits outweigh any negative aspects which is a good reason to stay with your two portions a week. One of these benefits includes the development of the unborn child’s nervous system.

Other groups such as boys, men and women who are unable to/choose not to have children can eat up to 4 portions of fish a week.

If you are not a fan of oily fish then white fish such as cod, haddock and plaice are good choices as well as being low in fat. They do contain omega 3’s but at much lower levels than those for oily fish.
All fish is good for us as it not only contains omega 3 acids but is a good source of vitamins and minerals such as niacin and selenium.

Try to eat a wide variety of fish as this will ensure you get the maximum benefits from all. However, limit yourself to just one portion of swordfish, marlin or shark because these may contain high levels of mercury.

There have been concerns raised about the dwindling stocks of fish in our oceans and seas. There are certain types of fish, such as cod, which have dramatically reduced in numbers as a result of their popularity. In order to prevent these stocks running out we are encouraged to choose lesser known types of fish such as Pollack and rock salmon.

However, omega 3 fatty acids are not just restricted to fish.

Other equally good sources of omega 3’s include leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach; rapeseed, flaxseed, pumpkin and sunflower seeds; kidney beans, soya, hemp and walnuts.

As a result of this we have seen an outpouring of ‘omega 3’ food products in the supermarket, such as margarine, bread and fruit juices which all claim to improve your brain power as well as your heart health. These omega 3 enhanced products are seen as another ‘superfood’ which can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

However it is important to remember that foods rich in omega 3’s work best when they form part of a healthy diet. Consuming fatty or junk foods and then throwing in the odd omega rich food in the belief that this will reduce any risks is not the answer.

But, omega-3s are not the only type of fatty acid. There are other types of essential fatty acids, such as omega 6 and omega 9 which are equally important in our diet.

Omega 6

This essential fatty acid also exists in 3 forms: linoleic acid (LA), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (ARA).

Omega 6 has a range of benefits which includes the following:

  • Reduces the symptoms of PMS such as breast tenderness and bloating
  • Maintains healthy skin, nails and hair
  • Regulates hormones and the immune system
  • Reduces cholesterol levels
  • Maintains the stickiness of our blood which is essential for clotting

Basically, omega 6 is sourced from plant oils whereas omega 3 is sourced from fish oils.

But the problem is that we tend to consume too many omega 6s and not enough omega 3s. This imbalance can lead to a range of problems. For example, omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties but if this superseded by omega 6 then it can upset this balance to the extent that it does the opposite – stimulates chronic inflammation.

In other words, this is a delicate balance (similar to a seesaw) which, if upset, has a negative effect on the body.

Another example: omega 3 is known to protect against heart disease by lowering levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (‘bad’) whilst raising levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol in the blood. But, over consumption of omega 6 may achieve the opposite effect here.

Other adverse effects include excessive blood clotting which increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke, suppression of the immune system and increased cell growth which can produce cancer cells.

Our Western diet is skewed in favour of omega 6s at the expense of omega 3. There are varying opinions as to what is the optimum ratio of omega 3 and 6 although some experts argue for a 4 to 1 ratio.

This 4 to 1 ratio is:

4 (omega 3) to 1 (omega 6)

But, in reality this ratio is likely to be:

15 to 1 or even 20 to 1!

Fifteen or 20 parts omega 6 to one part omega 3 is far too high but many of us are consuming too many omega 6s without realising it. One of the best ways of addressing this is to limit the amount of plant oils (such as sunflower) which are high in omega 6 and to increase the amount of omega 3 in your diet. This will help to
re-establish the delicate balance between the two.

This means eating more fish or taking a fish oil supplement if you are not a fish lover. And, include other omega 3 rich foods in your diet, for example, leafy green vegetables.

Omega 9

This fatty acid is not an essential fatty acid as compared to the other two but is still as important. It is also good for heart health in that it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and strokes.

How? This is due to its main component – oleic acid which has preventative qualities as well as being necessary for the normal functioning of the immune system.

Our bodies don’t produce omega 9 but we still need these monounsaturated oils. They are not essential but are beneficial for our health and can be found in both olive oil and rapeseed oil. They can also be taken as a supplement.

Your diet is one of several ways of ensuring that your heart stays in tip top condition. Other equally important steps include:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Take regular exercise
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Consume moderate amounts of alcohol
  • Stop smoking
  • Have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked by your GP
  • Reduce your salt intake
  • Family history: visit your GP to determine if you are at risk or not

Heart Health Guide Index:

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