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)

  1. Stef says:

    I've been taking a tablespoon of "cold pressed" flaxseed oil with my protein shake evryday for 4 years. It helps to kick up the Omega 3, 6 and 9's. I also take fish oil from Salmon as well 2 grams daily. Because I do this I try to reduce sat fats as much as I can, but I must confess, I like a steak once in awhile.

    • Raven Rex says:

      If you switch your meat to organic, then you should be fine. Because of their diet, organic cows have FAR less saturated fats than the conventional cows.

  2. Sue says:

    Can you give me info on avocados – I’ve gotten addicted to guacamole and am concerned about the fat in avocados.

  3. Kristine Brabson says:

    Hey Sue, we actually have a previous post all about avocado that should help. Check it out here.

  4. Vanetta says:

    I am taking warfrin and I have a low HDL but total cholestrol is within normal range. My question is does Omega three supplement interfer with the warfrin?

  5. Sue says:

    What if a person is allergic to fresh water fish and seafood? How do I get my omega 3?

  6. Dana White says:

    Hi Sue – certain marine algae (basically, plants from the sea) can provide DHA and EPA omega 3 without fish. It’s available in supplement form and is added to some omega 3 fortified foods. Make sure to check labels on the specific products to make sure there’s no fish oil in there along with it.

  7. Crystal says:

    I have always known about Omega 3, but now you have given a lot of great ideas to have fun eating them. I will try your recipes!! Thanks

  8. Jean says:

    We get fresh farm raised salmon is that o.k.? Whenever available I make sure I get fresh wild caught fish. Thank you

  9. J.D. says:

    Great blog, good to see others with the understanding of how great tasting food can be realy good for you. Talking to some people they are more scared of how to cook or how to incorporate small simple omega 3 dishes into there everyday lives. Can you add more 5 or 6 ingredient recipes for others to use.

  10. Dana White says:

    Hi Jean –
    The concern with farm raised salmon is that they can contain possible cancer causing substances called PCBs (but you would most likely have to eat a tremendous amount to put your health at risk). Some medical advisory boards believe that the health benefits associated with eating salmon outweigh the risks. It sounds like you’re doing it right, opt for the wild salmon when you can, but some farm raised on occasion is OK too.

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