Eating to combat inflammation, or, The Battle of the Omegas

So now that I have a new issue to contend with – pain during running caused by inflammation – I will be making an effort to control that inflammation with my diet.  There are many people who struggle with chronic inflammation, especially those with cardiovascular disease (inflammation is part of plaque formation), arthritis, and autoimmune disorders; and all of these people could benefit from being mindful of their diet.

n-3 and n-6

A discussion of inflammation must include a the essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 (abbreviated n-3 and n-6), which are named for the location of the double bond in the fatty acid’s molecular structure.

These are the two fatty acids that our bodies cannot manufacture, but need for survival.  N-6 are pro-inflammatory, which is important for when your body needs to stop the spread of infection, and n-3 are anti-inflammatory.  Both fatty acids are processed by the same enzymes before they go to work in the body, so they compete.  The only factor that gives one fatty acid the upper hand is its abundance: if there are 600 n-6 floating around, and just 50 n-3, it is more likely that the n-6 fatty acid will be processed and put to use.  Therefore, when considering dietary n-6 and n-3, the important thing to keep in mind is the ratio of n-3 to n-6.  More n-3 will result in decreased inflammation, but too much may cause people with bleeding disorders (like hemophiliacs) to have trouble clotting.  Too little of either and the body will not be able to function properly (they’re essential)!

These oils are found in many of the foods we eat.  N-6 are found in those that make up the bulk of the American diet, so from a practical standpoint we recommend to focus on increasing your intake of those on the n-3 side, and not to completely cut out the foods on the n-6 side if your only reason for doing so is to alter the ratio.  There are very healthy foods there that shouldn’t be cut out!  Additionally, many foods contain both n-6 and n-3.

The one thing that you must keep in mind when working to increase n-3 fats in your diet is that your overall daily amount of calories from fat does not change (which should be  20-35% of your daily calories).  An overall increase in dietary fat without compensation will result in an overall increase in calories, and could lead to weight gain.

To achieve this, I have been eating a lot of salmon, and adding extra ground flax and walnuts to my morning oatmeal and oat bran.  I will purchase canola oil for cooking, and I’ve always been a huge kale and brussels sprouts fan, but will make an effort to purchase and cook those items more regularly.  The most important part is going to be remembering to do it.

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