Fats have often been blamed for obesity but omega-3 fatty acids are actually good. Ms Joey Ho, Dietitian from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), explains why.
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When it comes to fat, omega-3 is one that you should not avoid. Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids to function and the health benefits far exceed your fear of gaining weight. However, omega-3 cannot be made by your body, so you need to eat foods that are rich in omega-3 such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds. If you are not a fish or nuts and seeds eater, omega-3 supplements are available.
In general, omega-3 helps to reduce risks of heart diseases and cancer. However, women benefit more as omega-3 protects against certain conditions that affect only women such as menstrual pain, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
More omega-3 benefits are listed below:
#3: It helps to prevent osteoporosis
Women are generally at higher risk of osteoporosis than men, especially after menopause due to the drop of estrogen level. Two systematic reviews published in 2012 and 2019 reported potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on bone mineral density, one of the reviews suggests that this effect may be enhanced concurrently with calcium supplementation. However, the therapeutic dosage of fish oil to achieve such effect is still unclear, therefore a higher quality and larger scale study would be beneficial to determine the long-term health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
#4: It keeps you in a happy mood
Omega-3 can fend off depression too. Recent reviews found omega-3 supplements to be effective against major depression (but not anxiety disorders). However, researchers are of the opinion that more large-scale, well-controlled studies are needed to find out the optimal dosage as well as the long-term benefits of using omega-3 in treating depression.
#5: It may reduce cancer risk
Over the years, the number of people diagnosed with cancer has increased globally. In Singapore, the top three cancers that affect women are breast, colorectal and lung cancers.
Gynaecological cancers such as cervical, ovarian and endometrial cancers are also amongst the top ten cancers commonly diagnosed in Singaporean women. Gynaecological cancers can develop before menopause but the risk increases with age, especially after menopause.
Research has also outlined the common risk factors that may increase individual’s chance of developing cancer, such as diet, obesity, use of alcohol, smoking, family history of certain cancers etc. Most public health guidelines recommend maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and adopting healthy diet, all of which contribute to reducing the risks of developing cancers in general.
Excessive energy consumed from food and drink is stored as fat in human body. Majority of overweight or obese women are found to have high body fatness, which causes insulin resistance, leading to high level of circulating insulin that indirectly promote cancer growth, especially endometrial and breast cancers. Increasing level of circulating estrogen in overweight or obese women is also known to increase risk of developing breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers. Overall, these metabolic syndromes associated with high body fatness and chronic inflammation create a potential environment for cancer growth. Apart from cancers, overweight or obese people are at higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, maintaining healthy weight is one of the key factors to reduce your cancer risk.
Strong evidence suggests that regular physical activity may reduce the risk of endometrial, breast and colorectal cancers as exercise helps to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce body fatness, decrease circulating estrogen levels and chronic inflammation. Therefore, being physically active is pivotal to helping achieve a healthy weight and thereby reducing cancer risks.
Increasing the consumption of wholegrains, fruits and vegetables has been shown to be protective against most types of cancers, especially colorectal cancer. Such foods contain high amounts of anti-tumorigenic agents, various antioxidants (Vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids, selenium, zinc etc.), phytoestrogens as well as dietary fibre. The combination of these dietary components has been found to have positive effects on reducing cancers’ risk in general. Additionally, the consumption of such high fibre food also results in better glycemic response, which in turn helps to improve insulin resistance and protects against obesity-related cancers.
Add omega-3 to your diet!
Say the word “omega-3” and salmon comes to mind. Well, you don’t have to eat the same fish three times a week. The foods listed below are also good sources of omega-3:
|Fish & seafood||Wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna, scallops, krill|
|Nuts||Walnuts, Brazil nuts and soy nuts|
|Plants||Algae, flaxseeds or flaxseed oil, cauliflower, hummus, collard greens|
If you are overweight, watch out for food such as nuts and oils as they are high in calories and may contribute to excessive weight gain.
And if you want to be sure you’re getting enough omega-3, you may consider taking a supplement containing fish oil, krill oil or high-DHA algae oil.
However, before you start taking any supplements, always consult your family doctor for specific recommendations or warnings based on your health status as omega supplements can thin your blood and increase the risk of bleeding when taken in high doses.