Why You Want More Omega-3's In Your Diet

Why You Want More Omega-3's In Your Diet

 

 
Omega 3’s have been a hot topic in today’s healthcare system as well as the media. Most people are aware that Omega 3’s are good for them, but don’t realize WHY the body needs them or what the health benefits are. The goal of today’s blog post is to take a closer look at Omega-3 fatty acids to answer all these questions!
 

What Are Fats?

Fats can be divided into several categories: 
 
(1) Saturated Fats - Found in animal based products (Butter, cheese, fatty meats & dairy products). A diet high in saturated fats may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
 
(2) Monounsaturated Fats (MUFA) - These are the Omega-9’s, found mainly in avocados, some nuts and olive oil. It is best consumed in raw forms. 
 
(3) Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFA) - These are the Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in safflower oil, sunflower oil, walnuts, peanuts, hemp, corn and pumpkin seeds. Omega-3’s are the most beneficial to health and most essential to our diet. They are found in flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, fish & seafood. 
 
(4) Trans Fats - These are known as the ‘bad’ fats. These confer no health benefits and can be quite harmful to the body. Trans fats can be found in fried foods, margarines & processed baked goods like cookies and cakes. 
 
 

What Are Omega 3’s?

The two major classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are Omega-3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Often times these are the fatty acids that are lower in individuals living in Western countries. They are mainly found in oils from fish, vegetables and other plant sources. Omega 3 fatty acids are vital components of the membranes that surround all cells in the body. These fats are not made by the body in high amounts and thus, are considered essential in that they must be obtained from the diet. 
 
There are three main types of Omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). ALA is mainly found in nuts, seeds and their oils while DHA and EPA are mainly found in fish. ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in the body. However, the body can only convert limited amounts of ALA into EPA and DHA. 
 
 

What are the Symptoms of an Omega-3 Deficiency?

Below are some signs that your body may need some more Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet: 
  • Dry scalp
  • Dry hair
  • Dry eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Low mood
 

What Are the Health Benefits of Omega’3’s?

Omega-3’s are known to be anti-inflammatory and thus can play a beneficial role in: 

Brain Health

  • Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in brain function and development starting from pre-birth. Keep in mind that the brain is 60% fat, thus Omega-3’s are super important in supporting all cell membranes that make up the brain cells. 

Depression & Anxiety

  • Inflammation plays a big role in mood disorders like anxiety and depression. New research has found that a deficiency of omega-3’s can lead to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Higher intake of Omega-3’s can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and overall cognitive decline.
  • *DHA in particular supports brain development and neurological function whereas EPA plays a bigger role in mood disorders like anxiety and depression. 

Skin Health

  • Remember, that cell membranes make up a large portion of the skin and Omega-3’s make up cell membranes. Thus, higher intake of Omega-3 has been shown to improve skin conditions like eczema and acne. 

Cardiovascular Disease

  • Omega-3’s from fish oil play an extremely beneficial role in cardiovascular health. They have been found to lower blood pressure and lower triglycerides which can beneficially impact heart health. 

Bone Health:

  • Omega 3’s have been shown to increase calcium absorption from the gut which can increase the amount of calcium that is deposited in the bone which can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. 

Women’s Health

  • Studies have shown that women who consume higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids experience less menstrual cramps. This is largely due to the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega-3’s. Fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut that contain high amounts of EPA can help to relax muscles which works to relieve menstrual cramps. 

Hormones

  • Steroid hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and Vitamin D) are made from dietary cholesterol. So often times, if there are symptoms to suggest a hormonal imbalance, it is super important to make sure you are consuming enough dietary cholesterol!

Digestive Health

  • Eating a diet that is high in Omega-3’s can help to improve the gut microbiome. Thus, with an improved gut microbiome, digestive complaints like bloating and gas can be reduced. 
 
 

How To Increase Intake Of Omega-3’s?

Since the body does not produce Omega-3, they must be obtained either from the diet or through supplementation. Here is a list of foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids:
  • Salmon (1-1.5 grams)
  • Tuna (1.5 grams)
  • Mackerel (1 gram)
  • Walnuts (2.6 grams per ¼ cup)
  • Flaxseed (1.5 grams per tbsp)
  • Hemp Seeds (1 gram per tbsp)
 
Keep in mind that fish like mackerel contain higher amounts of toxins like mercury, so it is best to get EPA and DHA from other types of fish like wild Alaskan fish. The FDA recommends no more than 12 oz of low mercury fish per week. Thus, another option to obtain adequate amounts of Omega-3’s without mercury is to consume high quality omega-3 supplements. Omega-3 supplementation can be a provide an important addition to a whole foods diet - by no means does supplements replace dietary fat!  If supplementing, be sure to speak to your health care practitioner prior to starting, as Omega-3 fatty acids can interact with certain medications, mainly blood thinners. 
 
 

What to Think About When Purchasing Omega-3 Supplements:

  • Dose - Make sure there is a high amount of EPA:DHA in each supplement. Some will have minuscule amounts of these which confers minimal benefits to health. Typically it is best to look for a supplement that has at least 2 grams of combined EPA and DHA per day. 
  • EPA to DHA ratio - Generally it is best to take an Omega-3 supplement that has either a 3:1 or 2:1 ratio of EPA:DHA. However, this can change depending on the condition. For example, for brain development a higher amount of DHA is required and for mood disorders a higher amount of EPA is beneficial.
  • Timing - To maximize absorption it is best to take Omega-3 supplements with meals, in particular dietary fat.
  • Storage - Make sure to store all Omega-3 supplements in dark places and in the fridge to allow for a longer shelf life.
  • Quality & Purity - It is best to choose a good quality fish oil that is free of heavy metals, pesticides and impurities. 
 
 
 
The truth is, we cannot survive without fat – so many bodily processes require it. Brain cells, immune cells, nerve cells, skin cells are all comprised of fat, which makes it an integral part of the body. Fats in the diet are a concentrated source of energy that fuels muscles and is a main component of cell membranes. 
 
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that plays a crucial role in various health conditions as well as overall health. Consumption of healthy fats like Omega-3’s play a big role in good nutrition and Omega-3 supplementation can provide additional support to a whole foods diet. Ensuring high Omega-3 intake can go a long way in disease prevention and overall health!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
** Disclaimer: The advice is in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.