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​What the best sources of Omega 3?

12th July 2018

Everyone is wary about consuming too much fat, although there is one fat you simply can't get enough of, and that is omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 helps our body to function and also has a wide range of health benefits.

What do we know about omega-3?

Omega-3 comes in both animal and plant form. There are three types of omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is found in marine animals and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which comes from plants and seeds.

Omega-3 is termed an essential fatty acid as it is needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but the body cannot produce each of them on its own like other fats, so we need to get them from our diet.

The name omega comes from the placement of double bonds on the fatty acid chain. The 3 in the name comes from the fact the first double bond of the fatty acid molecule is located three carbon atoms away from the omega end.

Where can omega-3 be found?

There is a range of foods which will provide you with a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Here is a list of the 10 top foods ranked by the amount of fatty acids per portion.

1. Mackerel 4107 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)

2. Salmon 4023 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)

3. Herring 3181 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)

4. Cod liver oil 2664 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)

5. Sardines: 2205 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)

6. Caviar 1086 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)

7. Anchovies: 951 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)

8. Chia seeds: 4915 mg per serving (ALA)

9. Walnuts: 2542 mg per serving (ALA)

10. Flax seeds: 2338 mg per serving (ALA)

There are other foods apart from fish, plants and seeds where good doses of omega-3 can be found. They include meats from animals grass-fed, eggs, dairy products from animals grass-fed such as butter, milk and cheese, some vegetables like spinach, Brussels sprouts and purslane and hemp seeds.

What is the recommended daily dosage of omega-3?

The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 250-500 mg of combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults. Although, eating two portions of fatty fish per week is widely regarded as enough to get the right dosage.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are recommended to up their daily intake of DHA by 200 mg.

If you are not getting enough omega-3 or need a bit of help in reaching your dietary intake then omega-3 supplements are available.

Health benefits of omega-3

Omega-3 is a wonder fat that has incredible health benefits. They are:

Fights depression and anxiety

Studies have found that people who consume omega-3 fatty acids regularly are less likely to suffer from depression. Some scientists believe EPA to be as effective at treating depression as the antidepressant drug Prozac.

Improves eye health

DHA is a natural component of the brain and retina. Getting enough omega-3 is believed to reduce your risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.

Promotes brain growth in babies

DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain and 60% in the retina. Pregnant mums and breastfeeding mums are encouraged to get as much omega-3 as possible to stimulate brain and eye development in their children.

Reduces the risk of heart disease

More people die of heart attacks and strokes than other health issues. Scientists discovered that communities that eat mainly fish had low instances of heart disease. Omega-3 has been found to lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and triglycerides in the blood, and can stop blood clotting.

Reduces ADHD in children

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behaviour disorder that leads to hyperactivity, lack of concentration and impulsivity. Studies on children with the condition have found lower levels of omega-3 in their blood. Doctors have found that by administering omega-3 supplements to children with ADHD they can reduce the severity of symptoms.

Reduces belly fat

These fatty acids are great for lowering belly fat, reducing high blood pressure and insulin resistance. These symptoms are connected to a range of health issues including diabetes.

Improves mental health

Studies have found omega-3 can reduce the frequency of mood swings and relapses in people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The fatty acids can also calm violent behaviour in people with psychiatric disorders.

May help prevent cancer

Not all studies agree on omega-3's benefits in the fight against cancer, although some research suggests a healthy dosage of fatty acids can reduce your chances of colon cancer by 55%, while also lowering the risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.

Fights asthma in children

Asthma causes severe inflammation and swelling of the lungs and in rare cases can be deadly. Omega-3 has been found to lower rates of asthma in children and young adults.

Improves sleep

Lower levels of DHA have been linked to lower levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. Omega-3 intake can dramatically improve length and quality of sleep.

Good for your skin

DHA is a natural component of your skin and manages the organ's oil production. EPA can also help your skin recover after you have been out in the sun.

Who should take omega-3 supplements

If you don't eat a lot of fatty fish or seafood then it is recommended you take daily omega-3 supplements. Cod liver oil and krill oil are good sources of EPA and DHA while vegans can gain the fatty acids from supplements made from algae.

Omega-3 supplements are increasingly popular with people who don't like seafood as they often come in capsules that don't have any taste and are easy to swallow. The gelatin coating on the capsule ensures the omega-3 source is not digested until it reaches the small intestine, reducing the chances of it repeating on you.

Dangers of taking too much omega-3

Taking an attitude of more is better could actually be dangerous to your health, especially when it comes to omega-3. Like all nutrients, there is a limit as to how much you should take. Food agencies advise taking no more than 2000 mg of EPA and DHA from supplements per day. Too much omega-3 can cause serious health problems, including blood thinning and causing excessive bleeding, digestive problems and high-calorie intake due to the high-calorie content of omega-3 supplements taking you over the recommended daily amount.

It is imperative you read and stick to dosage instructions when taking omega-3 supplements.

Conclusion

There is so much debate around nutrition and the supposed benefits of various nutrients and fats. However, there is almost universal agreement on the importance of omega-3 in maintaining a healthy body. If you don't eat at least two portions of oily fish a week then it is strongly recommended that you take supplement tablets to ensure your body benefits from these fatty acids. Remember, not all omega-3 acids offer the same health incentives. EPA and DHA from fish are considered more beneficial over ALA found in plants and seeds. A sensible approach would be to balance the intake of all three omega-3 fatty acids to improve your health.

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