Nutrition Articles

The Mega Benefits of Omega 3s

These Healthy Fats Belong in Everyone's Diet

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In a college nutrition class I took back in the 90s, I overheard a classmate boasting to a small group about how she only ate fat-free food. Most of America was still in the clutches of the fat-free craze, and my classmate’s views weren’t at all uncommon. Dietary fat was being blamed for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many other impairments of health. But instinctively, I thought that banning fat was a bad idea—I just didn’t have the facts to back up my theory. Now, a decade later, research is proving my hunch—that some types of fat can actually prevent disease and improve health. The key lies in a general understanding of fats, and in knowing which fats to emphasize in your diet.

The Fat Family Tree


The family of fat is very complex, so to make it less confusing, picture it as a family tree. At the top, there are two different families of fat—saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Saturated fat (butter is one example) is packed with hydrogen atoms, making it solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fat (like olive oil) contains fewer hydrogen atoms, so it is liquid at room temperature. The family of unsaturated fat includes two children: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. In the polyunsaturated fat family, you'll find omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, and it is the omega-3 family that has been making headlines in the nutrition world.

3 Types of Omega 3s


There are actually three types of fatty acids that are collectively referred to as omega 3s: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Besides being hard to pronounce, they are extremely important to your health. Omega 3s are "essential" fatty acids, because they are necessary for health and must be included in your diet (because the human body cannot manufacture them on its own). But what exactly are they used for, and what do they do for human health?

Mega Health Benefits of Omega 3 Fats


Extensive research indicates that omega-3 fats reduce inflammation, helping to prevent inflammatory diseases like heart disease and arthritis. In addition to warding off inflammation, omega 3s are also essential to the brain, impacting behavior and cognitive function, and are especially necessary during fetal development. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), omega 3s may also:
  • Improve artery health by helping to reduce plaque buildup and blood clots in arteries that lead to the brain.
  • Improve cholesterol by lowering triglycerides and elevating HDL (good cholesterol) levels. These benefits come primarily from DHA and EPA. Learn more about fats that fight cholesterol.
  • Improve joint health by reducing joint tenderness and stiffness associated with arthritis and osteoarthritis.
  • Improve bone health by positively impacting the body's calcium levels, reducing the incidence of bone loss.
  • Improve mental health by helping to insulate nerve cells in the brain, allowing these nerve cells to better communicate with one another. People who are deficient in omega 3s may suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and ADHD.
  • Improve skin health by helping to alleviate symptoms related to skin disorders like acne and psoriasis.
  • Improve bowel health by reducing inflammation of the bowels, helping alleviate symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Improve lung health by reducing inflammation in diseases like asthma. To read more on this topic, click here.
  • Improve menstrual health by reducing the pain associated with PMS and menstruation.
  • Help prevent cancer. Colon, breast, and prostate cancers have all been correlated with low intakes of omega 3s.

Sources of Omega 3s


The three different types of omega 3s are found in specific types of foods.
  • ALA is found primarly in foods of plant origin, but it's also found in other foods such as beef. The richest source of ALA is flaxseed, but it is also found in hempseed, canola oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, linseeds, walnuts, and walnut oil. Once ingested, the body converts ALA into EPA and DHA, allowing it to be more readily used by the body. However, this conversion isn't very efficient. That's why experts recommend including EPA and DHA sources in your diet as well. *Note: Flaxseed oil supplements are available in liquid and capsule form, but always consult your health care provider before taking any supplements.
     
  • DHA is found in seafood, algae, and coldwater fish such as salmon, sardines and albacore tuna. *Note: Fish oil supplements and vegetarian DHA supplements (containing algae) are also available in liquid and capsule form, but always consult your health care provider before taking any supplements. Only use fish oil supplements that have been certified to be free of heavy metal contaminants like mercury.
     
  • EPA is found in many of the same foods as DHA, including cold-water fish such as salmon, and sardines, as well as cod liver, herring, mackerel, and halibut. *Note: Fish oil and vegetarian algae supplements are also good sources of EPA, but always consult your health care provider before taking any supplements. Only use fish oil supplements that have been certified to be free of heavy metal contaminants like mercury.
     
  • Enriched eggs that contain all three types of omega-3 fatty acids are readily available these days. These eggs are enriched by adding flaxseed or algae to the hens' diets so that they produce eggs that are rich in healthy fats. According to the Flax Council, omega-3-enriched eggs provide almost half of the recommended daily level of ALA and one-quarter of the recommended daily level of EPA and DHA—the same amount that can be found in 3 ounces of fish.
 
To get the recommended levels all types of omega 3s, aim for:
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed (or 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil) daily. To learn more about storing and using flaxseed, click here.
  • 2 to 3 servings of the above-mentioned fish sources per week. In general, fresh fish contain more DHA and EPA than frozen fish. To learn more about fish selection and safety, click here.
Omega 3s might seem overwhelming at first. But once you understand the types and "mega" health benefits that come with them, you'll be on your way to improving your health.  Now that's something to brag about!

This article has been reviewed by Tanya Jolliffe, a SparkPeople healthy eating expert.

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Member Comments

  • 97MONTY
    Great article on the benefits and where to get them
  • This is a great article. We always hear about Omega 3s but this article gives us good ideas of where to get them!
  • Wonderful Article. It makes me want to try out Omega 3s.
  • Have Geena taking Omega 3 supplement for a couple of years.
  • Know much more about Omega 3s. Great information.
  • What a great article on the benefits of omega-3!
  • SMITHNANCY
    Good work Liza, Your article is very informative and helpful in understanding the importance of Omega-3 fatty acid. We always connect omega-3 with seafood and found it rare item to eat. You made us clear about its origin and application

    Thank you :)
  • What an interesting article, so well explained! I knew about the benefit of Omega 3 but to learn details about how to picture the different fat is refreshing. You are a good teacher, thanks for this article, very much appreciated.
  • OSHIRMAN
    I recently discovered about Omega 3 from Clary Sage Seed Oil. After research, I found out it provides the best Essential Fatty Acid for our body. This vegan & natural product is simply AMAZING!! Really a life changer. Omega 3 from Clary Sage Seed Oil taste great (I sometimes put it in my salad).
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    I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do :)
  • CHRISLOTERS
    Very informative, I had been taking Omega 3 supplement http://visiongrou
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    ga3.html as an alternative anti inflammatory and helps a lot without worrying any harmful side effects. Than you for this post! it is very simplified.. very easy to understand the information being provided.
  • SIOL55
    Great info but how about Fish Oil and Krill Oil capsule? How much per day?
  • RIHOZN
    Hi!
    I'm contacting you because I have read you article about Omega. Shortly my story: I have psoriasis and five years ago it really flared up in my joints so I couldn't exercise anymore and two years ago patches started appearing on my skin and under nails. But about a year ago I started taking a new natural omega product that was suggested to me and now for all practical purposes my psoriasis is gone. I would like to know how you measure omega 6 and 3 ratio due to its importance? I use a blood test which shows the ratio and several other data analyzed by leading laboratories. For example my first test ratio was 8,4:1, second after four months 3,4:1 and third a year later 1,6:1. It`s would be nice to heard your opinion.

  • BETHKAYLE
    Great Article! One of the few great ones I've read. I take Laminine Omega. It is patented and has Omega fatty Acids 3 (EPA and DHA), 6, and 9 + CoQ10(Extended Release), Vitamin K2... It is made in USA; head office is in California. That's why
    delivery and handling is free in the States. Delivery varies from 3 to 8 days.
    I found this online and have been ordering it online as well http://tinyurl.co
    m/q8fjc93 . You click Join if you want to be a member and get the member's price Or click retail order if you don't want to be a member.

    One more thing, LPGN sources its fish oil from Engraulis Ringens, a member of the anchovy family, found in the Humboldt Current off the coast of South America near Peru, where the waters are clean and clear. Phytoplankton that the Engraulis Ringens species consumes in this region is rich in DHA and EPA, giving the fish the highest naturally occurring ratios of DHA and EPA of any other fish species. The fish oil also
    undergoes molecular distillation, and is tested before and after the process to remove gunk and toxins and ensure the safety of the oil.

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

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