By now you have probably seen and heard a lot about omega-3. Whether it’s bread boasting about its omega-3 content, eggs advertising their essential fatty acids, or yogourts touting brain benefits for kids—omegas, it seems, are all the rage.
As it turns out, this is a good thing, since most of us could definitely use more omega-3 fatty acids in our daily diets. The omega-3s are a group of essential fatty acids that include alpha-linolenic acid (mostly found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils) and DHA and EPA (mostly found in fish). The body needs omega-3s in order to properly build and maintain tissues, but the body cannot make omega-3s on its own. This makes it essential for us to consume the fatty acids in our diets, hence the name.
Researchers agree that our diet was once much higher in these fatty acids than it is now, and a return to the glory days of omega-3 would be a worthwhile investment in our health. Fortunately, it is not that difficult to get omega-3s into our diets; it’s simply a matter of knowing where to find them.
Fish, particularly salmon, herring, mackerel, and anchovy, are a good source of DHA and EPA. The best source is raw fish—sushi anyone? Cooked and smoked fish can have a significantly reduced omega-3 content compared to raw fish, but some omega-3 benefit is still to be had.
Go nuts (…or seeds…or eggs)
Walnuts along with flaxseeds and their oil are rich sources of alpha-linolenic aid (ALA). Walnuts are simple to tote along with you to provide a quick omega-full snack. Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are easily added to salads or sprinkled over pasta dishes.
Eggs high in omega-3s are also now available. They are naturally produced by adding significant amounts of flaxseed to the diet of egg-laying hens.
Why all the fuss anyway?
So now that you know where to find your omega-3s, why should you care? High dietary intake of ALA has been found to support the health of our blood vessels, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Higher intakes of ALA have been associated with a reduced risk of calcification of the arteries and of heart disease, and fish oil supplementation is effective for lowering elevated blood triglyceride levels.
In addition to heart health, omega-3 fatty acids can help to support brain function. Therapeutic use of EPA has been shown to help improve mood and lower aggression in some populations, while studies on DHA supplementation have found benefits for the development of children’s brains and cognitive function, particularly while they are very young.
When diet is not enough
If you don’t like fish, can’t stand nuts, or just don’t know if you’re getting enough, omega-3 supplements are readily available. Cod liver oil, salmon or other fish oils, and algae are all sources of DHA, and flaxseed oil is a rich source of ALA.
Supplements also help when therapeutic levels of omega-3 fatty acid, such as the doses used to treat high blood triglyceride levels or to ease inflammation in the body, are needed.
No matter what source you choose to get your omega-3 needs met—fish, plant, or supplement—make certain you’re achieving a daily intake of this helpful and healthy fatty acid.