The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids Omega-3 fatty acids are important to your health. These fatty acids are part of …
The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important to your health. These fatty acids are part of the membranes that surround the cells in our body. You may have heard that including more omega-3 fatty acids in your daily diet can have a number of health benefits.
The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include:
– Helps prevent heart attacks and strokes.
– Increase in blood flow to the brain.
– lowering cholesterol levels.
– Help with memory.
– Improvement in mood.
– Decreasing inflammation.
Omega-3s also provide mild relief for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, says registered nutritionist Kristen F. Gradney, a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Pure Nutrition in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Researchers are studying how omega-3 fatty acids can help with a variety of other health conditions.
Why food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are important
As much as possible, it’s important to get omega-3s as part of a balanced diet versus diet supplements, says Daniela Novotny, a registered nutritionist and lecturer in biomedical sciences at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. A balanced diet of omega-3 fatty acids also contains other vitamins and minerals that help our bodies run properly.
It’s also important to think about the variety of omega-3 fatty acids available in food. There are actually different types of omega-3 fatty acids. The three that researchers have studied the most are:
– Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
– Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
– Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
There are nutritional guidelines for how much ALA we need each day, but not for EPA and DHA. However, health experts recognize the importance of all three fatty acids and recommend getting them from our diet whenever possible.
Here are some of the best food sources for omega-3 fatty acids.
Salmon and other fatty fish
Oily fish are high in EPA and DHA, says Novotny. Fish also provides you with protein and vitamins like vitamin D. Oily fish, which are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, include:
– Salmon. In fact, a 3-ounce serving of Atlantic salmon contains 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, according to Gradney.
Eating a 3.5 to 4-ounce serving of fatty fish at least twice a week is a great way to increase your omega-3 fatty acid consumption – and it may be easier than you think.
“We don’t always think of fish as a ready-made meal, but it thaws quickly and can be baked, grilled and filleted,” says Novotny. Fish can also be used in sandwiches. Some of these fish come in easy-to-use bags or cans at the store and are sometimes packaged along with crackers, making them a quick meal on the go, Novotny adds.
“If someone doesn’t want to eat fish or is a vegetarian, we might recommend walnuts,” says Despina Hyde Gandhi, a registered nutritionist and diabetes consultant with NYU Langone Health’s Weight Management Program in New York City.
Walnut is the only nut that is an essential source of omega-3 fatty acids, says Gandhi. One ounce serving contains 2.5 grams of omega-3 ALA. Additionally, walnuts are a great source of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E. Some ways to add walnuts to your daily diet include:
– Add to salads.
– Make an afternoon snack out of walnuts and fruits.
– Adding to cookies.
– Use them in homemade pesto.
This oddly named seed comes from a desert plant called Salvia hispanica, which is part of the mint family, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Seeds and nuts can be a great way to add omega-3s to your diet if you are a vegetarian or need to avoid fish, says Gandhi.
A two-tablespoon serving of chia seeds is rich in ALA omega-3 fatty acids, contains 10 grams of fiber, and contains proteins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, and zinc. Add chia seeds to your smoothies, granola, granola, or baked goods, Novotny advises. However, if you are new to consuming chia seeds, they can cause indigestion at first because they are such a high fiber food. Start small and work your way up to a full serving, she warns.
Flax seeds, like chia seeds, are another seed that is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Just one tablespoon of flaxseed contains 2 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 fatty acids, according to the Mayo Clinic. It also has 2 grams of fiber and is low in calories.
Similar to chia seeds, you can add small servings of ground flaxseed to:
– Smoothies or smoothie bowls.
If you are concerned about flaxseed flavor taking over your food, rest assured that this humble seed won’t really change the taste of your food. Make sure you consume ground flaxseed so that the omega-3 fatty acids can be absorbed, advises Dr. Jeffrey Landsman, a family doctor at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Otherwise, your body will use up all of the semen without getting the omega-3s, Landsman explains. You can find lightly ground flaxseed in the supermarket.
It’s also important to start slowly if you are new to flaxseed due to its high fiber content. According to the Mayo Clinic, drinking more water can help your body absorb the fiber better.
Omega-3 fortified eggs and other fortified foods
Some chickens are fed flaxseed, which causes them to produce eggs containing omega-3s (otherwise, eggs are usually not a source of omega-3s for your diet). Look for egg cartons labeled “Fortified with Omega-3” or “Contains Omega-3” to make sure you are buying the right variety.
“Eggs are a great source of protein and they have healthy fats,” says Novotony. Eggs are a versatile food too, she adds. Make a hard-boiled egg as a snack or meal, make an omelette, or combine eggs with the vegetables you have on hand for a frittata.
You may also find other foods fortified with omega-3s, which means that the fatty acids were added to them when they were processed. This can be yogurt, juices, milk, and even infant formula. The exact amount of omega-3 in fortified foods varies. One popular brand has 125 milligrams per egg according to the label.
Registered dietitians generally recommend that we use foods to bring important nutrients into our bodies, says Gandhi. However, if this is difficult (and sometimes difficult with a typical Western diet), they may recommend using an omega-3 supplement. There are a variety of omega-3 supplements available, including:
– fish oil.
– flaxseed oil.
– krill oil.
– seaweed oil.
According to Novotny, fish oil tends to be higher in EPA and DHA. However, vegetarians could opt for flaxseed oil or seaweed oil to avoid consuming a fish product, Landsman says. In fact, certain fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids because of the algae they eat, he explains.
Some labels might say the supplement contains “fish oil,” but look for a specific label to tell how much EPA and DHA are combined, advises Novotny. Read on to find out how much is the right amount.
How Much Omega-3 Do I Need Per Day?
Although there are recommended daily guidelines for ALA because our bodies can’t make it, there are no set guidelines for EPA and DHA. The ALA recommendation for men is 1.6 grams per day and 1.1 grams for women.
Our bodies can convert some ALA to EPA or DHA, but it’s a limited amount – so getting EPA and DHA from food makes the most sense, reports the National Institutes of Health. Consuming up to 1 gram of EPA and DHA per day from a supplement is generally considered safe, although the actual amount of EPA and DHA you receive could increase if you also receive these fatty acids from the foods you eat, says Gandhi.
The American Heart Association recommends that patients with documented heart disease receive 1 gram of EPA and DHA daily, preferably from their diet. However, supplements can be considered if approved by a healthcare provider.
If you are pregnant, ask your gynecologist whether you should eat fish for its omega-3 benefits. Certain types of fish may be at risk of high levels of mercury, but this is more related to swordfish or shark, Novotny says.
While adding more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet is beneficial, there are a few concerns to keep in mind, especially when using supplements:
– Always let your doctor or health care provider know if you would like to use a supplement, including an omega-3 supplement, Gradney advises.
– Avoid consuming more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day – and no more than 2 grams from dietary supplements – warns the Food and Drug Administration. Too high a dose can affect blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding. This is especially important if you are using warfarin or another anticoagulant.
– Some users experience regurgitation or indigestion with omega-3 supplements.
– Some supplements have a fishy aftertaste.
To recap, here are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids:
– Fatty fish such as salmon and anchovy.
– Chia seeds.
– Foods fortified with omega-3s such as eggs and milk.
– When adding a supplement, you can choose between fish oil, krill oil, flaxseed oil, and algae oil.
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