If the different types of fatty acids would live together in a kingdom, the omega-3 fatty acid would rule over them all. Why? Boosting brain function, maintaining eye health and supporting regeneration are just some of the reasons this fatty acid has earned its place on the throne. The question is, how can you make sure you’re getting enough of the stuff? Read more to discover the best sources and why this healthy fat needs to be integrated into your nutrition.
What are omega-3’s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, which means the body can’t make them from scratch like it does with other types of fats. The only place it can get them from is your food.
There are different forms of omega-3’s: α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is mainly found in specific vegetable oils and nuts, leafy vegetables, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, and in some grass-fed animal fat. EPA and DHA on the other hand are only found in fish and algae oil.
EPA and DHA are the most important omega-3’s. That’s because they have been proven to be the most beneficial for our health.
ALA, on the other hand, has to be converted to EPA and DHA, and that’s where the problem lies. The conversion rate from ALA to EPA and DHA is extremely low, which means that you’d need to eat unrealistic amounts of foods containing ALA to get the recommended doses of EPA and DHA. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to eat foods containing ALA, as ALA is also very good for your health, but you should always ensure you get sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA through your diet.
Why are omega-3’s so important?
First of all, they are extremely important for cell membrane fluidity, since they are an integral part of our cell membranes. (Fluidity is good, because molecules can then move in and out of cells).
Second, they fight inflammation in our body1 . This means, that they are, for example, beneficial when someone has an autoimmune disease like asthma or arthritis, or is recovering from an injury.
Third, they make us smarter: Omega-3’s are essential for brain development and functioning. This is especially important during pregnancy and breastfeeding2,3 or as we get older.
Fourth, it may improve eye health, since DHA is an essential structural component of our retina4.
Fifth. Omega 3’s can improve risk factors for heart disease, like triglyceride levels5, plaque6 or blood pressure7.
What are the best sources of omega-3?
Foods high in omega-3 are fish (especially salmon, mackerel, herring), specific vegetable oils (walnut oil, flaxseed oil), nuts (walnuts), flax seeds and leafy green vegetables.
Oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (and the products which contain these oils) should be avoided, for example corn oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil. The reason being, omega-6 fatty acids can cause inflammation, and although you may not think you do, many of us consume far too much of it: An ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1.
No worries if you don’t like fish. You can also supplement with fish oil and algae oil. The latter one is the only vegetarian source of DHA and EPA, but just as good as fish products and better for the environment.
Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits, that’s why no nutritious diet is complete without. Furthermore, in order to obtain a healthy ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, you should try to avoid omega-6 rich oils as much as possible, since chances are you already consume way too many of them.