Omega-3 are a type of fatty acid. They are unsaturated fats that we need to survive. The body can’t make them on its own so Omega-3 has to come from the foods we consume. Studies indicate that Omega-3 fatty acids can protect against all sorts of illnesses, including breast cancer, depression, ADHD and various inflammatory diseases.
You might already feel that you eat enough Omega 3 or are taking a supplement so you should be fine but did you know you may not be getting the right Omega 3! There are three forms of Omega 3 fatty acid, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid(DHA). Most people consume enough Omega-3 ALA but our levels of Omega-3 EPA and DHA tend to be low even though these are the two most important Omega-3s.
ALA is the least useful type of Omega-3, being used mostly for energy in the body. It does not support essential life functions like the other two Omega-3s.
Omega-3 EPA helps reduce disease-causing inflammation and improves your mood by producing chemicals called eicosanoids. Inflammation in the body is linked to a variety of common diseases including heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain forms of cancer.
Omega-3 DHA is a key structural component of your brain, the retina of your eyes, and numerous other body parts.
Studies show many people especially vegans and vegetarians lack Omega-3 EPA and Omega-3 DHA.
Food Sources of Omega-3 EPA and DHA
Taking an Omega 3 supplement doesn’t necessarily help as most Omega-3 supplements are lacking in Omega-3 EPA and DHA. Read the label to be sure.
Your best source of EPA and DHA is fish, specifically cold-water fish. This type of fish has high oil/fat meaning high Omega 3 fatty acids content. Top picks include:
- Herring (kippers)
- Cod liver
- Meat, eggs, and dairy from grass-fed animals also tend to contain significant amounts of DHA. The grass causes the animals to produce DHA that is stored in their flesh.
The fish can be fresh, canned or frozen. The oily fish is beneficial in other ways too providing nutrients we often miss out on including vitamins A, D, B vitamins, calcium (from the small bones), iodine, zinc, iron and selenium.
Vegetarian/ Vegan sources are believed to be:
EPA & DHA are found together, they do not occur in isolation - if one is there, the other is also. Recommendations for daily intake of EPA & DHA are 250–500 mg per day for a healthy person. This means, each week you should be eating 3.5g of EPA & DHA to meet the recommended daily intake. In a 120g tin of sardines, which is the average size of a tin you can buy in a supermarket, you will get 2g of Omega-3 EPA & DHA. So, to meet your recommended intake, eat two 120g cans of fish per week. As long as you eat at least 2 tins of oily fish each week, you will get your Omega-3.
Eat two cans of fish each week to get a good level of essential Omega-3.
Many medical professionals advise eating more, up to 1g per day, but ensure the fish you eat is farmed responsibly as fish carrying high mercury levels or toxins can affect your health badly.
What about Omega-3 ALA?
As I mentioned Omega-3 ALA is the least useful type of Omega-3 and most of us get enough ALA without even trying. However it is still important to monitor your intake of Omega-3 ALA as it cannot be produced by the body. It is an essential fatty acid and can only be obtained from your diet. Omega-3 ALA supplies energy to the body so if you ever feel sluggish or run down, ingesting Omega-3 ALA is a good idea.
It only comes in plant form and common sources include:
- flaxseed oil
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- soybean oils
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for ALA is 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women.
Let me know, have you increased your intake of Omega-3 EPA and DHA?