You’ve all heard that omega-3 fatty acids are good for you but you may not know why and the best ways to get it so let me try to clarify a few things first.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids and α-linolenic acid is one form that is essential for metabolism but not synthesized by the body so needs to be received from diet.
- α-linolenic acid (ALA) is converted to long-chain forms of omega-3’s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the body.
- The conversion from ALA to EPA is only 5-10%
- The conversion from ALA to DHA is only 0.1-1.0%.
- EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids can be directly consumed in the diet from fish and small amounts from chicken.
What are health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids?
- The omega-3 ALA has not been shown to show the same beneficial health benefits as EPA and DHA.
- EPA and DHA have been found to be beneficial for infant growth, neural and retinal development, heart disease protection, and some evidence of reducing risk of coronary heart disease.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA have been shown to decrease triglyceride levels, decrease growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and slightly lower high blood pressure.
What are sources of omega-3 fatty acids?
- ALA is commonly found in chloroplast of green leafy veggies, flaxseeds, chia, and walnuts. But remember, the conversion to EPA and DHA is fairly inefficient from these sources.
- EPA and DHA is best consumed from cold water oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and herring but is found in small amounts in most other seafoods too.
|Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics||2 servings of fish per week, preferable from fatty fish (500 mg/day EPA and DHA)|
|National Cholesterol Education Program||Fish is recommended as a food item for people to choose more often as protein|
|World Health Organization||Regular fish consumption (1-2 servings/week; each serving should provide 200-500 mg EPA and DHA)|
* 8 ounces of cooked fatty fish per week is equivalent to 500 mg/day of EPA and DHA
Other Useful Tips to Know
- Farmed salmon actually has more EPA and DHA than wild salmon but both are excellent sources of omega-3’s.
- White albacore tuna has twice as much EPA and DHA as light tuna.
- Omega-3 from foods is always better than from supplements. One of the reasons is that often times supplements actually just contain ALA which does not have the true health benefits you want which come from EPA and DHA. Additionally, if you get fish oil supplements, it’s difficult to determine what fish they use and also the level of mercury in the fish, especially if they extract it from the fish skin. So unless your doctor recommended increased intake of omega-3, you can get plenty from a healthy diet.
- If you do take supplements, the FDA recommends that consumers not exceed more than a total of 3 grams per day of EPA and DHA, with no more than 2 grams per day from dietary supplements. (unless otherwise recommended by your doctor)
- While Flaxseeds don’t convert to EPA and DHA as efficiently as from fish, it’s a great food that can be added easily in your diet. Make sure you use ground flaxseed and not whole. Ground flaxseed is also preferable to flaxseed oil because in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, the seeds contain fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Try to add about 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to cold and hot cereals, oatmeal, batters, yogurts, salads, milkshakes, or smoothies. I personally add it to cereals and milkshakes to to make them more nutritious.
- Walnuts are also good sources so try adding it to your yogurt in the mornings or blend in your milkshakes or smoothies. Because walnuts are a soft nut, they blend really well into milkshakes and not only do they add omega-3’s, but also adds a little bit more protein.
- Canola and soybean oil both are good sources of omega-3 so try cooking with those oils from time to time and use flaxseed or walnut oil in salad dressings.
- If you want to find out the EPA content of various types of seafood check out the USDA website and search their database. When looking at the full nutrient profile, you can find the amount of EPA by looking at the amount listed under 20:5 (the scientific abbreviation for EPA).