There are many good fats out there, but the one that seems to be the heaviest hitter as far as health benefits are concerned is the family of omega-3 fats, which can help lower the risk of cancer and heart disease and reduce inflammation and high blood pressure. Of the omega-3 fats, the most important to human nutrition are alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), with EPA and DHA having the most benefits. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered essential, as they are vitally necessary to life and health, yet our bodies are unable to produce them internally. Instead, we must consume food sources or supplemental forms of these nutrients.
Food sources of ALA are primarily plant-based, and the healthiest and most available are chia seeds, flaxseeds,walnuts, and some dark green veggies. Food sources of EPA and DHA include fatty/oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, tuna, cod, and herring. Even for fish lovers, other than salmon and tuna, that list may be less than appetizing. In addition, we now must deal with the fact that many fish are contaminated with toxins such as mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, which are a group of manufactured organic chemicals banned in the 1970s yet still found in the environment). The safest fish on the list is wild Alaskan salmon, although it typically comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
To make matters a little more interesting, it’s not really just your intake of omega-3 that’s important. The key is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Omega-6 is another family of polyunsaturated fatty acids considered essential, as our bodies cannot make them. Unlike omega-3, food sources of omega-6 are quite numerous in today’s modern diet. Although that sounds positive, it’s actually quite the opposite. Corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and cottonseed oil are all sources of omega-6 fatty acids and are overabundant in many processed foods. Pick up almost any bag of crackers, chips, or cookies and you will find these oils in the majority of them. With our increased consumption of processed foods, our omega-6 intake has increased. Even though omega-6 fatty acids are needed for favorable health, most of us consume 10 to 30 times more than needed, which throws off the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio for optimal health. These excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet can actually promote inflammation, which increases the risks of cardiovascular disease, blood vessel damage, cancer, asthma, and arthritis. The optimal ratio is 1:1 or more realistically 2:1 (with up to 4:1 being shown as acceptable). However, with the average person consuming a ratio of 10:1 and up to 30:1, it’s no surprise that health problems believed to be stemming from heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune issues are on the rise.
For mixed martial artists,the anti-inflammatory properties of essential fatty acids are the greatest benefit. In addition, the fat burning, cardiovascular,and immune boosting properties are advantageous. So, what’s a fighter to do?
The American Heart Association recommend seating two 6-ounce servings of fish per week, particularly fatty fish for EPA and DHA. Taking mercury and other toxins into account, consuming wild Alaskan salmon is your best bet.
It is also a good idea to consume plant sources of ALA. Flax and chia can easily be added to smoothies or oatmeal, walnuts can be eaten as part of a healthy snack, and green veggies can be consumed at every meal.
High quality fish oil capsules are another excellent source of omega-3. However, just as there can be toxins in fresh fish, there can also be toxins in fish oil capsules. Many companies go to great lengths to avoid this, but there are still several things to look for when choosing a fish oil supplement. The manufacturer must have a proven commitment to high quality by having a verified process to purify the fish oils and remove toxins. Independent lab or third-party testing for purity and potency is important. Also, look for a breakdown of EPA and DHA amounts versus just a listing of total omega-3 fatty acid content. Companies with nothing to hide will list this information on the actual bottles or on their websites. Talk to your doctor before starting fish oil supplements, especially if you are allergic to iodine, take medication to lower blood sugar, or use blood thinners.