You may have heard your doctor mention the importance of omega-3 fatty acids for your health, especially as you age. They certainly have become a buzz word in nutrition circles as well. Everyone says you need to get more Omega 3’s, but they never say why. What are these healthy fats all about?
Although the human body is capable of producing many of the different types of fats it needs to maintain health and proper functioning, it can’t make omega-3 fats. The only way to get these essential fatty acids is through diet. Known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, the family of omega-3 fats consists of three main types: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
EPA and DHA are often referred to as marine omega-3s because they are derived from fish. ALA, on the other hand, is found in a variety of plant-based foods, such as the fat of grass-fed animals, nuts, vegetable oils, flaxseed and flaxseed oils, and leafy green vegetables.
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to cell membranes throughout the body. They are also needed for healthy cell division and growth. For this reason, having an abundance of omega-3s in the body offers a range of health benefits.
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Promotes Cardiovascular Health
Omega-3 fats, particularly EPA and DHA, are often called heart-healthy fats because they are instrumental in cardiovascular health. Eating an omega-3 rich diet is associated with lowered risk of heart disease because these fatty acids improve heart disease indicators such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The essential fatty acids found in fish have also been proven to lower triglycerides and reduce the growth of plaque and blood clots that clog arteries.
Benefits Eye Sight
Deficiencies in DHA are associated with vision problems because this type of fatty acid is an integral element for both brain and retinal functioning. Studies have also revealed a link to those who eat more omega-3 fatty fish and a reduced risk of macular degeneration, a common condition related to blindness in later life.
Boosts Brain Functioning
Researchers believe adequate omega-3 intake offers protection against cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Eating more of these fatty acids may slow down the cognitive decline associated with aging.
Enhances Mood and Mental Health
Omega-3 fatty acids also contribute to mental health and well-being. Studies have shown that omega-3s play a role in psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD. EPA, found in fish, appears to be more instrumental in improving depressive symptoms than other forms of omega-3s.
Omega-3s seem to ease inflammation in the body, which is significant due to the connection between inflammation and chronic disease. In particular, people with rheumatoid arthritis experience a lessening of symptoms like stiffness and joint pain. People with RA were also able to decrease prescribed medications when eating more fish or supplementing with fish oil.
How to Get More Omega-3s
The typical Western diet is loaded with another type of essential fatty acids, omega-6s. However, the standard diet is deficient of omega-3s. Though omega-6 fats are important, you need a proper balance of both omega-6s and omega-3s for optimal health. In order to fight inflammation, which can be caused by too many omega-6s, you need to make a conscious effort to add more omega-3s to your diet.
Omega-3s in the Diet
The best way, by far, to get more omega-3 fatty acids is by adding these essential fats to your diet. Go for fatty fish like wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and trout as great sources of EPA and DHA. Eat these fish at least two to three times each week.
ALA is used in the body as energy, and converted into EPA and DHA in small amounts. You can get this fatty acid from plant foods like flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, Chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil and soybean oil. ALA can also be found in grass-fed dairy and beef. Enjoy these omega-3 foods in moderation, as many are high in calories.
Supplementing with Omega-3s
Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids are preferable over fish oil supplements. However, if you would like to take a supplement to get additional fatty acids, this is an option. Select high-quality supplements and check for the amount of EPA and DHA rather than looking at the total amount of fish oil. Buy supplements that contain approximately 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA.
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