Throughout my Keto journey I have heard many people talk about Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids and their importance, but I never quite understood the full story. It seemed over scientific and I never took the time to comprehend the “Why?” behind eating special foods with these fatty acids. I did some research so I could simplify what it is and why we want it and now this is something I will most definitely be accounting for while meal prepping!
What are Omega 3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that must be provided in the diet, and cannot be made within the human body. Fatty fish, such as salmon, are the primary source currently in the human diet. However, the fatty acids that fish store in their fat comes from ingestion of microalgae, such as zooplankton and phytoplankton. Microalgae Oil, thus, is an alternative to fish oil which is more sustainable, a Microalgae Oil has the added benefit of being more appropriate for some vegetarian diets.
There are many types of omega-3 fats, which differ based on the number of carbon atoms and double bonds they have. Here are the three most common:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — This 20-carbon fatty acid’s main function is to produce signaling molecules called eicosanoids, which help reduce inflammation. EPA also helps reduce symptoms of depression.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — DHA is a 22-carbon fatty acid that makes up about 8% of our brain weight and is extremely important for healthy brain development and function.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — This 18-carbon fatty acid can be converted into EPA and DHA, although the process is not very efficient. In fact, the conversion is so inefficient that it is not recommended that you try to meet you EPA and DHA needs with ALA consumption. The body mainly uses ALA for energy, but this omega-3 has also been found to reduce the risk of fractures, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes as well.
What are Omega 6 fatty acids?
Another class of polyunsaturated fatty acids are the omega-6 fatty acids. The first member of the omega-6 fatty acids is linoleic acid (LA) and the major dietary source consist of most vegetable oils including corn, peanut, sunflower, safflower, and olive oil. The ideal dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is approximately 1:1. However, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the average American diet is about 20:1!What we lack in omega-3 in our diet, our bodies must instead, use omega 6 as a substitute. The consequences of excess omega-6 fatty acids are detrimental and promote many diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases. Multiple studies suggest that in order to obtain maximum benefits from omega-3 fatty acids it is important to decrease omega-6 fatty acid intake.
If you have been researching about the ketogenic diet, I’m sure you have seen “MCT” or “MCT Oil” pop up somewhere in your internet travels. To understand MCTs, it helps to know a little about dietary fat in general. Dietary fat is made up of fatty acids, often referred to as the “building blocks” of fat. Fatty acids can classified as short, medium, or long-chain, depending on their length. Most of the fat in the foods we eat is in the form of triglycerides, which are made up of Omega 3 fatty acids. A triglyceride can be classified as short, medium, or long-chain depending on the length of the fatty acids that it contains. A long chain triglyceride (LCT) contains 3 long chain fatty acids, a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) contains 3 medium chain fatty acids and a short chain triglyceride (SCT) contains 3 short chain fatty acids.
MCT vs. LCT
- Digestion & Absorption: Because of their shorter length, MCTs are more easily digested and absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract than LCTs.
- Transportation: Once dietary fat is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract, the body must then transport it to the liver where it is metabolized to produce energy. MCTs are transported directly from the gastrointestinal tract through the bloodstream to the liver. In comparison, LCTs must take a longer route through the lymphatic system then through the circulatory system before finally reaching the liver. The analogy I like to use is that LCTs and MCTs have the same origin (GI tract) and destination (liver) but LCTs take the longer, slower scenic route and MCTs take the expressway.
- Metabolism: In addition to the differences described above, the metabolism of MCTs is unique as well. Fat metabolism occurs in the mitochondria of the liver. LCTs require a substance called carnitine to enter the mitochondria, however MCTs can enter mitochondria freely so they are not limited by the presence of carnitine.
MCT and Keto
Remember that the ketogenic diet works by switching the body’s metabolism from using glucose for energy to using fat for energy, which produces high amounts of ketones in the body. The unique features of MCTs make it useful with the ketogenic diet because MCTs are capable of producing more ketones than regular fat (which is mostly LCT). Although a small number of foods contain a percentage of MCTs (such as coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and butter fat), pure MCT oil is not found naturally. MCT oil may be added to the diet to help boost ketone production or to help maintain ketosis with a lower ketogenic ratio with more protein and carbohydrates allowed.
How can it help weight loss?
Fish oil promotes weight loss. In young, obese males, the addition of fish oil to their caloric-restricted diet, resulted in 2.2 lbs. more weight loss after 4 weeks, compared to those on a caloric-restricted diet without fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-obesity effects by inhibiting lipid uptake into adipocytes, decreasing fatty acid synthesis, and increasing lipid oxidation. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA drastically reduce triglycerol and free fatty acid levels, which have tremendous benefits for people that are overweight and those with metabolic syndrome. Omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to positively affect muscle mass in steers, as well.
Fish oil given to steers resulted in an increase in protein metabolism when compared to controls. The steers were able to use twice the amount of amino acids to synthesize new proteins. This is hypothesized to result from an increase in insulin sensitivity by the ingestion of fish oil in the steers. The ability to convert nutrients into muscle decreases with age, a consequence of increased insulin resistance of aging muscle cells. Consequently, physical strength itself has previously been found to have a strong correlation to an individuals overall mortality risks. Low muscle mass is associated with an increased mortality risk.
How can it help depression?
Several studies have reported a strong negative correlation between depression and fish consumption. In addition, omega-3 levels are significantly lower in individuals afflicted with depression compared to healthy individuals. There is compelling evidence fish oil may be a natural treatment for depression. Patients with bipolar depression supplementing 2g of fish oil daily for 6 months, had a 50% or greater reduction in Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression scores. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, individuals with bipolar depression supplementing 9.6g of omega-3 daily showed significant improvement in mood stabilization!
Keto Foods highest in Omega 3
- Salmon: 3 ounces has ~1.8 grams of EPA and DHA
- Sardines: 3 ounces has ~1.2 grams of EPA and DHA
- Mackerel: 3 ounces has ~1 gram of EPA and DHA
- Rainbow Trout: 3 ounces has ~0.8 grams of EPA and DHA
- Sea Bass: 3 ounces has ~0.7 grams of EPA and DHA
- Chia seeds: 1 ounce has 5 grams of ALA
- Walnuts: 1 ounce has 2.5 grams of ALA
- Flaxseeds: 1 ounce has 2.3 grams of ALA
I hate salmon! What else can I do?
If you don’t eat the foods on the list very often, there is no need worry. You can always take a supplement. However, don’t just buy and take any random omega-3 supplement. There a couple of things that you must be aware of first:
- Only purchase supplements that have DHA and EPA. ALA supplementation is not necessary.
- Fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, and algal oil are the most popular DHA and EPA supplements, and they all seem to have similar bioavailability. Some research suggests that krill oil is a bit more bioavailable than fish oil.
- Omega-3s can be found in supplements as re-esterified triglycerides, natural triglycerides, free fatty acids, and ethyl esters. Ethyl esters seem to have a somewhat lower bioavailability than the others, but each form will significantly increase plasma EPA and DHA levels.
- The FDA suggests not to exceed 3,000 mg of EPA and DHA per day, as this dosage can cause blood thinning and excessive bleeding in some people.
- Make sure you are not consuming too much vitamin A with your omega-3 supplements. Cod liver oil, for example, typically contains high levels of vitamin A, which can be potentially toxic for some people.
- Select a supplement that comes with antioxidants (like vitamin E or rosemary extract), is processed at low temperatures, and has the highest omega-3 content (more than 0.3 grams of EPA + DHA per serving is good).
- Store your supplement at a temperature that is below 39 degrees Fahrenheit. (The shelf life of omega-3s is only about six months when stored at ~39 degrees Fahrenheit. When it is stored at higher temperatures and exposed to excess light, the omega-3s tend to oxidize more rapidly.)
- Track omega 3 and 6 intake so I can become accustomed to how much I really need to consume.
- Continue to take my fish oil supplements but add in antioxidants when I buy a new bottle.
- Try new recipes with salmon and other foods high in fatty acids. Maybe even chia seed pudding? 🙂
- I know many people eating a ketogenic diet add “Perfect Keto MCT Oil” into their coffee to make it bulletproof and I intend to buy a bottle and try it! They even have flavors like vanilla, chocolate, salted caramel, etc.!
As always, please consult your doctor regarding any supplements you intend to take as many supplements can have negative effects when taken together. Thank you taking the time to read this! Let me know if you have any questions or comments!
Did you know about the importance of fatty acids? What do you do to make sure you have enough? Is there something to add? Let me know!
Leave a comment below!