Consuming omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the long-chain omega-3s found in fish and seafood, has been associated with significant health benefits, such as reducing cardiovascular disease risk. However, recent national surveys have shown that adults in the United States are consuming significantly less than the recommended amounts of seafood and omega-3 fatty acids.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with a specific chemical structure that contains a double bond in the third bond of the fatty acid chain. Of the various omega-3s, three have specifically been researched for their health effects: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Fish provide a primary source of EPA and DHA in the human diet. Many fish feed on phytoplankton, which consumes microalgae, the aquatic organisms that produce PUFAs.
In theory, the essential fatty acid ALA, found in plant-based sources such as nuts and seeds, can be converted to the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA in the liver. As a result, EPA and DHA are not considered to be essential to obtain from the diet. However, conversion rates of ALA are generally less than 15%, increasing the need to consume dietary sources of EPA and DHA, such as fish, seafood, and omega-3 supplements. Some of the more important health benefits of omega-3s also come from EPA and DHA, as opposed to ALA, so it’s important to ensure these are included in your diet or supplement plan.
Omega-3 benefits include:
• Exhibiting anti-inflammatory effects
• Improving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
• Playing a structural role in cell membranes
• Protecting against cardiovascular disease
• Reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia
• Supporting infant health and neurodevelopment during pregnancy
Omega-3 food sources:
Foods high in omega-3 include cold-water fish, oysters, and organ meats, providing EPA and DHA, as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds, leafy green vegetables, and walnuts, providing ALA.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements:
Omega-3 supplements providing EPA and DHA include products made from fish, seafood, and algae. These supplements are most commonly found in liquid, soft gel, or capsule form. Omega-3 supplements can also contain additional ingredients, such as other fatty acids and antioxidants such as vitamin E, which are used to prevent oxidation (spoilage).
The Standard American Diet commonly contains a ratio of about 15:1 omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids, which has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, including cancers and autoimmune, cardiovascular, and inflammatory conditions. Omega-6s are found in meat, processed foods, and vegetable oils, which are often consumed in the standard American diet. Along with moderating your intake of omega-6 foods (chicken is high in this), taking omega-3 supplements is an effective way to help improve your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
Be careful to source omega-3 supplements that pull from small fish and manufacturers that test their samples to be low in PCB’s, mercury and dioxins. I like and use Biotics Research because they test theirs for over 400 different contaminants. Work with a Health Practitioner to find the right one for you.
January 23 is my first cooking class of the year – A Day in the Life of the Anti-inflammatory Diet. I’ll be making a breakfast, lunch, dinner and elixir that are healthy and delicious. See more at www.UnlockBetterHealth.com.