Understanding Omega-3 Fats

by in Healthy Tips, March 6, 2009

salmon with brown sugar
Your body can’t make them, so the only way to get omega-3 fats is to eat them. Here’s why they are so important and how to make sure you are getting enough.

Health Benefits
Omega 3s (as they’re known for short) are “good” polyunsaturated fats. They are important for growth and brain function as well as heart health because they help lower triglycerides and total cholesterol. A diet full of omega 3s also has been linked to improved immunity and a reduced risk of high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and Rheumatoid Arthritis. That all sounds good, no?

There are three types of omega-3 fats. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are most commonly found in cold-water fish (more on food sources below). ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is the omega-3 fat found in plants. The tricky part is, your body must convert ALA to EPA and DHA in order to get the fats’ health benefits. Unfortunately, this is an inefficient process, and you’d have to eat unrealistic amounts of ALA food sources. Whichever type, omega-3 fats come from nutritious, whole foods that bring a variety of other nutrients — protein, vitamins and minerals — to your daily nutrition landscape.

Sources of Omega 3
Good sources of EPA and DHA are cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines (salmon and sardines are typically low in mercury as well). ALA is found in canola oil, soy products such as soybean oil and tofu, flaxseeds, walnuts and in some leafy green veggies (for example, kale). Food companies have been adding extra omega 3 to some foods too — juicesbuttery spreads to name a couple. Check labels to see which kind of omega 3 they contain.

Omega-3 supplements are also an option; they are made from fish oil, flaxseed or marine algae oil. When considering a supplement, remember these guidelines:

  • Take with food to avoid a fishy aftertaste or digestive problems (read: fishy burping – yuck!)
  • Avoid large mega-doses unless prescribed by a doctor — you risk smelling like fish and others WILL notice!
  • Supplements will not provide you with the other nutrients found in omega-3 rich foods.

Getting Enough
Eat a diet rich in all 3 types of omega-3 fats. Experiment with healthy salmon recipes and try to get two servings of omega 3-rich fish per week. An example of a serving would be 6 ounces raw or 4 to 5 ounces of canned or cooked salmon. Check out the American Heart Association’s list of omega-3 fish. To get some ALA, cook with canola oil, top oatmeal with ground flaxseed, add tofu to stir-fries or sprinkle walnuts on yogurt or salads.

Omega 3-rich recipes to try:

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Comments (46)

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  7. Madhu Kumar says:

    You have been taking flex seed oil 1 tablespoon a day for 4 years. I read that flax seed oil induces hair loss. Is this true? did your hair get better? Please let me know because my daughter is suffering from scalp dermatitis and her nutritionist suggester her to take 1tbs flax seed oil but I am just afraid to give her.

  8. Linda Calderon says:

    Be sure that salmon oil has no mercury. Inexpensive ones often do. (They surely won't tell you.)I buy Carlson's cod liver oil which I feel is the best and cleanest as it has that reputation already. You can get it with lemon flavor in the liquid if you prefer or I take the gel caps with no flavoring.

  9. danawhite says:

    Hi Marie –
    French lentils are slightly smaller and firmer – they may take a little longer to cook but they're delicious. Check the package directions for appropriate cooking times.

  10. Linda Calderon says:

    You should NOT be using extra virgin olive oil for general frying/heating but regular olive oil as heating extra virgin changes it to an unhealthy substance. At the most it should be heated at a lower temperature and only up to 5 min. so why not buy olive oil (not extra virgin) for cooking and keep the extra virgin for dipping bread or for salad dressing, over pasta and veggies that are not heated. Trader Joe's in my area got the regular when I asked them. You have to read the front label carefully as almost no grocery stores carry the regular olive oil. Even your TV cooking hosts use olive oil incorrectly as they use extra virgin in most cases. You can also log on to http://www.olive oil.com or do a search and I found a whole article on the info on different olive oils.

  11. Linda Calderon says:

    Avocado oil is good for you but it is fattening so have to keep it to a minimum of probably 2 T.

  12. Linda Calderon says:

    Low HDL is not good. A high one is good. Warfarin or Warfrin is a blood thinner as I have been told and Omega 3 can thin the blood too so you need to talk to your doctor (if he believes in supplements which most don't and most don't know the interaction between them and drugs). You could talk to a good naturopathic doctor about this. You would still want to monitor your blood by testing too. I don't know that it would interfere but could make your blood too thin. The great thing would be if it would enable you to get off the drug and just take the supplement but you would need to have a doctor who's willing to work toward that.

  13. Linda Calderon says:

    You can get your Omega-3 from plant sources. If you go online to wwwtheaimcompanies.com you can see what they have as they have a plant-based one with no fish oil. I can't recall its name for sure but look thru their products and you will see it. It should have the name Omega in its title I would think. Or, look for their toll free number and give them a call.

  14. Linda Calderon says:

    I'm confused as you said you get fresh farm-raised salmon but then said you get fresh wild caught so do you mean you try to get wild but sometimes it's not available? Trader Joe's if you have one near you always has wild salmon and even wild shrimp now and it's vacuum packed so the freshest other than fresh caught.

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