Thursday, 21 October 2010

confusion over omegas

I have seen more and more products recently that are labeled as containing omega-3, 6 and 9. It's not just that they contain these but the labels state it prominently, as if it's a good thing. However, we should be consuming LESS omega-6 not MORE. This seems to be a case of manufacturers deliberately confusing people about their health so that they can increase their profits. People see the word 'omega' and they think it must be a good thing.

Oils containing lots of omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids can be beneficial to health, but omega-6 is a very different matter. Although omega-6 is an essential fatty acid (EFA), so we need some, most people in the developed world get far too much of it.

Most people know that saturated fats are not healthy. They may also know that trans fats are also unhealthy. There are also healthy fats or oils. Olive oil and fish oil can be beneficial for health. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids, also known as omega-9. A fatty acid is part of a fat molecule. Fish oil contains the most beneficial forms of omega-3 fatty acids, long-chain fatty acids like DHA and EPA.

The problem with omega-6 is that the more of it we have the less our body can utilize omega-3. So not only do we not get enough omega-3 in our diet, especially from fish and sea food, but the large amounts of omega-6 we consume means that we can't utilize what little omega-3 we get. This leads to problems like inflammation.

We get most of our omega-6 from vegetable oil. Vegetable oil comes from various sources, often seeds such as sunflower seed. Fast food and processed food contain lots of vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is cheap, so it is easy for manufacturers to boast that their product contains omega-6. It is also easy for manufacturers to say that their product contains omega-3. Short-chain omega-3 can be obtained cheaply from vegetable sources. Not only is short-chain omega-3 of little use to the body, especially when we also eat lots of omega-6, these products contain very little omega-3.

So be very wary of manufacturers who boast about the omegas in their products. Manufacturers know what they are doing, they know that they are misleading people, but sometimes small shopkeepers get confused. In Brighton there is a new whole food shop near the station. They sell oil from stainless-steel urns. You can bring your own bottle and fill it up. They have olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils.

Their oil tastes delicious, but their labelling seems confused. They say that their rapeseed oil is high in omega 3, 6 and 9. However, the good thing about rapeseed oil is that is high in omega 3 and 9 and LOW in omega 6. If they wanted to be accurate, they should say that olive oil is high in omega 9 (or monounsaturated fatty acids), rapeseed oil is high in omega 3 and 9, and sunflower oil is high in omega 6. They could also say something about the different vitamin E levels.

I use olive oil and rapeseed oil. I am glad that rapeseed oil, especially cold pressed rapeseed oil, is becoming more available. I think it strange however that the manufacturers are marketing it as having less saturated fat than olive oil. Both olive and rapeseed oils are low in saturated fat so that it hardly makes a difference.

Could it be that the manufacturers have done a bit of research and found that the public don't know much about 'omegas'? The public don't know that a vegetable oil low in omega-6 is a good thing, but they do know that saturated fat is a bad thing. So they have decided to market the oil on the basis of it being lower in saturates than olive oil. Probably they are also calculating that they can take custom away from olive oil. They feel they are in competition with olive oil in a 'healthy oil' market.

I think it is despicable that manufacturers should try to confuse the public instead of trying to educate them. They are manipulative and care about their profits and not about public health. I think there should be stronger rules about labelling and advertizing so that they can no longer do this. I think that there should be more education of the public in these matters that are so important for their health, and this should start in schools.

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