It is likely you’ve seen the term “Omega-3 fatty acid” recently; maybe on the Internet, or at the doctor’s, or walking through the vitamin aisle at the grocery store. But what is an Omega-3, and why should you care? We’re going to talk about what Omega-3s are, why you need them, and the best ways to get them in your diet.
First of all, Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids. No– they don’t make you fat! They’re actually a very important nutrient that everyone needs. Fatty acids are a type of molecule that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in a particular arrangement. Omega-3s are “essential” nutrients: we humans cannot make them in our bodies, but we need them for many bodily functions that are too small to see.
Aren’t There Many Different Kinds of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Yes, there are a ton! However, there are only three that are really prominent in our diets: alphalinoleic acid (ALA), which is found in many plants, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), which are found in fatty fish and some algae. ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA in the body, but only in small amounts.
DHA and EPA molecules
Why Do I Need Omega-3s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are required for building cell membranes, and they influence cell-to-cell communication. Your body’s secret languages would not be possible without these special molecules. Omega-3s are also the molecular starting material for hormones that regulate inflammation, blood clotting, and arterial health. They even help to regulate our DNA!
Health Benefits of Omega-3s
In addition to their essential metabolic functions, Omega-3 fatty acids are generally believed to improve cardiovascular health. They reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, decrease inflammation, and help eliminate the “bad” fat (triglycerides, for example) that collects in our arteries. All of these properties encourage more regular heart rhythms and healthier blood vessels.
Omega-3s, especially EPA, regulate oil production in the skin and work as antioxidants. They can improve your skin health and repair sun damage, while nourishing your scalp and hair. Brain feeling blue? Evidence is growing to support the idea that Omega-3 fatty acids improve overall brain function, reducing depression, improving mood, and heightening cognitive ability.
Dietary Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Research suggests that Western diets are typically deficient in Omega-3s. We consume more fatty meat and grains than we do fish and vegetables. Here is a simple chart that shows where we can best get our essential Omega-3s:
Good sources of Omega 3
If you follow the link to this website, you will find some extensive tables that show the actual gram quantity of ALA, DHA, and EPA in many foods. Print them out and put them on the fridge!
Too Much of a Good Thing: How Much Omega-3s Should I Be Eating?
Though most people can benefit from more Omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, it’s good to be careful with your intake. The American Heart Association recommends adults eat two 3.5oz servings of fatty fish weekly, and that children and pregnant women eat up to 12oz weekly of fatty fish that is least likely to be contaminated with Mercury or other toxins. Many physicians recommend taking 1-4 tablespoons of flaxseed oil daily, or up to 4 grams of fish oil, if you choose to take supplements.
There is no true upper limit for Omega-3 intake, and research into this is inconclusive. Some studies have suggested that excessively high levels of Omega-3 intake can cause weakened immune response. If you’re worried you’re taking too much, talk to your doctor about what is safe. Omega-3s are an important part of every diet, so consult with your doctor about safe doses for you. Other potential cautions exist if:
a) you take blood-thinning medications or anti-coagulant (clotting) medications, as Omega-3 fatty acids can intensify their effects
b) you are pregnant, as Omega-3 intake is very important, but some food sources can pose risks
I’m A Vegetarian/Vegan, How Do I Get My Omega-3s?
There are plenty of plant sources of ALA (see the chart above), and DHA has recently become available as a supplement made from algae! This supplement is called Neuromins DHA.
What’s The Best Way To Get My Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Oily fish are undoubtedly the best source of natural Omega-3s. Plant sources of ALA are excellent, but in lieu of either of these options, supplements are available. Fish oil and flax oil are widely available in capsules sold over the counter. And, most fish oil capsules have been formulated so you don’t have to worry about a fishy aftertaste or “fish burps.”
The Bottom Line
We all need Omega-3s, so figure out what’s best for you and get those fatty acids into your body!
Coupons and Deals Related to Post