Although fat has gotten a bad reputation over the years, some fat is essential to good health. In order to make the healthiest choices and follow diabetic diet guidelines, your diabetic meal planner will probably differentiate good fats from bad ones.
Recent research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are among the healthiest fats available, and may:
- Aid fetal development
- Improve memory
- Prevent asthma
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Omega-3 fats also seem to offer important health benefits to diabetics.
What Are Omega-3 Fats?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids named for their molecules’ structure–the first of many double bonds is found three carbon atoms away from the end of the carbon chain. There are three types of omega-3 fats:
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid)
- LNA (Alpha-linolenic acid).
LNA is found in plants, while EPA and DHA are found in fish and other marine sources. When LNA is eaten, the body converts it to EPA and DHA, the more beneficial forms of omega-3s.
Sources of Omega-3
Omega-3s are essential to health and brain function. However, your body can’t produce them itself. You can get omega-3s from certain foods, or through an omega-3 supplement. If you’re following diabetic diet guidelines, you may wish to include these sources of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet:
Vegetarians and those allergic to seafood or algae can get omega-3s through plant-based ALA-rich foods such as:
- Canola oil
- Flax meal and flax seed oil
- Nuts, especially walnuts
- Olive oil.
When ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in the body, however, some omega-3s are lost, so you’ll have to eat more of these foods to get the same benefit as you would from seafood.
Omega-3 Diabetes Benefits
If you have diabetes, including more omega-3s in your diabetic meal planner can reduce your risk of certain diabetic complications, as well as:
- Decrease insulin resistance
- Improve mood and lower rates of depression
- Improve symptoms of inflammatory diseases, like asthma and lupus
- Reduce apoproteins, cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Reduce risk of heart attack
- Reduce risk of macular degeneration
- Reduce risk of some types of cancer
- Reduce risk of stroke.
Omega-3, Diabetes and Risks
Although omega-3s are complementary to most diabetic diet guidelines:
- Some people taking fish oil supplements actually experience an increase in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
- Some people with type-2 diabetes experience slight increases in fasting blood sugar when taking fish oil. If you’re taking certain diabetes medications, your doctor may adjust your dosages.
If you’re thinking about taking an omega-3 supplement, talk with your doctor to be sure it’s right for you. He’ll probably want to monitor your blood lipid and sugar levels to ensure that you’re responding well to the omega-3 supplement.
Neithercott, T. (2009). The A-to-Z of omega-3. Retrieved June 11, 2010, from http://forecast.diabetes.org/magazine/food-thought/z-omega-3.
Rapaport Publishing. (2010). Omega-3 fatty acids. Retrieved June 11, 2010, from http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/Articles/Diabetes-Definitions/omega_3_fatty_acids/.
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2010). Omega-3 fatty acids. Retrieved June 11, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm.