Friday, January 06, 2012

Omega-3s and Antioxidants Are An Important Combination

Melinda sent this great article about omega-3 fatty acids:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Antioxidants in Edible Wild Plants, Biological Research, 2004

The author, Artemis Simopoulos, is probably the most prolific and knowledgable researcher on the topic of omega-3s.

Some things worth iterating:
"Human beings evolved on a diet that was balanced in the omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and was high in antioxidants."
Our diet is no longer balanced. We eat about 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3, owing to our great intake of omega-6-rich soy and corn oil, both from processed foods and grain-fed livestock.

Our diet is not as high in antioxidants (such as vitamins E and C) as it once was, owing to a depletion of these compounds in modern, industrially-produced foods, and to our lower intake of fresh plants.

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats. As such, they oxidize quickly. Even if they are fresh, they oxidize once they hit the chemical soup in the stomach. Oxidation is not good, as Simopoulos describes:
"Oxidative damage, as a result of normal metabolism or secondary to environmental pollutants, leads to free radical formation which has been considered to play a central role in cancer and atherosclerosis. Therefore, antioxidants, which can neutralize free radicals, may be important in the prevention of these diseases."
As we've seen, and as she says, green leafy plants are an excellent source of omega-3s:
"In plants, leaf lipids usually contain large proportions of 18:3ω3, which is an important component of chloroplast membrane polar lipids."

"Mammals who feed on these plants [including us] convert 18:3ω3 to EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish."
Speaking about livestock:
"Wild animals and birds who feed on wild plants are very lean with a carcass fat content of only 3.9% and contain about five times more polyunsaturated fat per gram than is found in domestic livestock. Most importantly, 4% of the fat of wild animals contains EPA whereas domestic beef contains very small or undetectable amounts, since cattle are fed grains that are rich in omega-6 fatty acids and poor in omega-3 fatty acids, whereas a deer that forages on ferns and mosses contains omega-3 fatty acids in its meat."
Simopoulos argues that getting our omega-3 from plants has an advantage:
"One advantage of the consumption of ALA over omega-3 fatty acids from fish is that the problem of insufficient vitamin E [and other antioxidants] intake does not exist with high intake of ALA from plant sources."
Also, our body can convert more of the plant-based omega-3 (ALA) to the longer chain EPA and DHA when we consume less omega-6.

Popeye knew.

What food has:
  • 5 times more omega-3 than omega-6, providing half a gram omega-3
  • 10 grams of protein, all the essential amino acids
  • Only 12 grams of carbohydrate
  • Over 150% of daily value for vitamin C and folate
  • Over 2000% of daily value for vitamin K
  • 7.5 grams of fiber
  • More calcium than a cup of milk
  • Almost 7 times more iron than a 3-ounce beef Filet Mignon
All for 78 calories?


Dr. Mel said...

Think purslane, dandelion greens, chickweed--all common "weeds" in the northeast! My neighbors hate it that I actually let these things grow in my yard and eat them. My neighbors are fat & unhealthy!
But I know we still get too much Omega 6, as we eat vegetarian soy-based meat analogues a couple times a week. Have to work on breaking that habit!

Dr. Mel said...

Table 1 is really interesting. My only concern about what she says is that the commercialization of growing these wild plants may reduce their good qualities.

Bix said...

She talks a lot about purslane.

Isn't it true, that as you scale up a scarce commodity, it morphs into the industrialized commodity you were avoiding in the first place.

Dr. Mel said...

I think it is true, Bix, but purslane is not a scarce commodity--it probably grows in anyone's yard who doesn't spray weed-killer. It's semi-succulent, so although it dies off in the winter, it does really well in summer droughts. It's the wild form of the summer flower, portulaca, which we sell at the plant nursery!

Dr. Mel said...

There are a few good links in that Wiki article about landscaping with--and cooking with--purslane.

Bix said...

Maybe I'll try growing some in a pot next year. I'm curious how it tastes.

Dr. Mel said...

You might find it in your lawn once it becomes consistently warm in spring. It's quite recognizable!