Surely you’ve heard about the wonderful benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. You’ll read about them in nutrition labels, and you’ve read about them in my blog and Instagram, as I always try to include omega-3-rich foods in my meals.
But maybe you've wondered, WHY ARE THEY SO IMPORTANT? What exactly are they, and should you really care?
I wanted to address this topic because, YES, you should care. Omega-3's are extremely important for your health. And being informed on the topic is important because not all omega-3 foods are equal, and it's good for you to know why, and which ones you need to consume.
WHAT ARE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?
The omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that come in three main forms: DHA, EPA, and ALA.
DHA and EPA are found to have the most benefits. These are primarily found in fatty fish like wild salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as in some seafood, algae and fish oils.
ALAs are found primarily in certain nuts and seeds, as well as in some pasture-raised animal foods like grass-fed beef and dairy. While extremely beneficial, ALA is less active in the body and needs to be converted into EPA and DHA in order to become active. For this reason, ALA should not be relied on as your only omega-3 source.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Omega-3’s are termed “essential fatty acids” because they are ESSENTIAL for good health, and our bodies cannot produce them on its own like other fats. And unfortunately, Omega-3 DEFICIENCY is extremely common nowadays (particular post-industrialization), mostly due to the excess consumption of omega-6 fats.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 work in tandem; when the ratio of Omega-3:Omega-6 becomes imbalanced, it leads to INFLAMMATION in the body. Common symptoms of omega-3 deficiency (imbalance vs/ omega-6) include: poor memory, dry skin, early signs of ageing, cholesterol and heart problems, mood swings, joint pain (and other signs of inflammation in the body), and autoimmune disease. Left untreated, it can ultimately lead to chronic disease.
Even if you don’t have any of the above issues, you will (because I believe everyone does) benefit from increasing your intake of omega-3s.
It will support your cardiovascular health, help stabilize your blood sugar levels, help balance your cholesterol levels, strengthen your mind and keep your mood balanced, potentially reduce your risk for autoimmune disease and even cancer, improve the health of your skin/hair/nails, and even help with digestive disorders such as colitis.
WHAT ARE THE PRIMARY BENEFITS OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?
- Helps to lower CHOLESTEROL
- Helps to lower INFLAMMATION of all kinds, including arthritis
- Helps fight AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE, including to improve DIABETES
- Helps with MENTAL and MOOD disorders, including: depression, anxiety, ADHD, Alzheimers
- Improves SKIN issues, particularly eczema and psoriasis
- Supports FERTILITY and healthy PREGNANCY (and promote brain health of the baby!)
- Supports healthy HAIR, NAILS, SKIN and EYES
- May decrease risk of some CANCER
WHAT ARE BEST SOURCES OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?
- FATTY FISH: wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, tuna (fresh), herring, halibut and trout (you want to go for those LOWER IN MERCURY and always wild-caught)
- FISH OIL: coming from wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, cod liver (fermented) and/or krill
- SEAFOOD: primarily oysters
- NUTS & SEEDS: Flax seeds (and flax oil), chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts
- SEAWEED/ALGAE: Algal oil, spirulina, wakame, nori, kelp
- ANIMAL PROTEIN (Grass-fed): beef, eggs (primarily egg yolk) and dairy
Additional PLANT-BASED SOURCES of omega-3 fatty acids include: soybeans (non-gmo), mung beans, wild rice, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, squash (particularly winter squash like butternut and acorn)
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU CONSUME, AND DO YOU NEED TO SUPPLEMENT?
The best way to ensure optimal omega-3 intake is to eat fatty fish 2-3 times a week (but not much more as it's important to be careful of potential heavy metal toxicity. Thats why I recommend sticking to wild-caught and low mercury sources; see above), as well as some seafood, seaweed. For ALA's, consume plenty seeds (flax, chia, hemp), and small amounts of organic meat.
However, most people I know aren’t consuming that much fish. And to be honest, as mentioned, we have to be careful with excessive fish consumption for other reasons, particularly if you can’t be sure that the fish is wild-caught.
Therefore, I generally believe that taking a good quality Omega-3 supplement is beneficial for everyone, especially for those that consume a diet rich in Omega-6 foods, and vegetarians!. If you’re vegetarian/vegan, I would recommend taking a DHA supplement made from algae in addition to a daily intake of omega-3-rich seeds/nuts/veggies/fruits.
When it comes to SUPPLEMENTS, the quality is important. You want a supplement with a high concentration of EPA and DHA (you can find as high as 90%). I look for total omega-3 of about 1000mg per serving, and of that, the EPA and DHA adding up to at least 80% (aprox. 800mg). Also, you want to make sure the fish oil comes from wild-caught fish or cod-liver or krill. Ideally look for ones that have labels of: non-GMO, “GOED standard for purity” or “third party purity tested”.
My favorite brands include Nordic Naturals and Green Pasture (fermented cod liver oil). I personally have both and alternate between these two. Nordic Naturals also offers ones with additional key supplements such as CoQ-10, Vitamin D and for women, Evening Primrose oil.
So, want to live a healthy, inflammation-free life? Start increasing your intake of OMEGA-3's and consider adding a good-quality supplement to your regimen.
Love and Omega-3's,