Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Why You Need Them And How To Get Them

Food, Nutrition, Supplements

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // August 1, 2016

There’s been a lot of conversation in regards to good fat and bad fat in recent years. While we used to hear the word “fat” and cringe, we now know there are good types and bad types. Omega-3 fatty acids are among the good. In fact, they’re essential for human health, but because the body can’t make them, you have to get them through food. These incredibly healthy fats can provide you with a variety of powerful benefits for your brain and body. Here’s a breakdown of what they are, how they benefit you and what food sources you can take advantage of to make sure you’re getting enough omega-3s in your diet.

Related: The Truth About Healthy Fats

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Also referred to as n-3 or ω-3 fatty acids, they are a family of polyunsaturated fats, which technically means they have several double bonds in their chemical structure. I know, we’re getting a little science-y here, but bear with me. They are called essential because our body requires them, but as mentioned previously, we must get them through our diet. The term “omega” comes from the placement of the double bond on the fatty acid molecule, with omega-3s having the first double bond distanced three carbon atoms away from the omega end.

What Are The Main Types Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

While there are many fatty acids that are part of the omega-3 family, there are three main important ones.

  1. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) – Found in Fatty Fish, Seafood & Fish Oil

EPA consists of a 20-carbon-long omega-3 fatty acid whose main purpose is to form signaling molecules referred to as eicosanoids. These molecules have many physiological roles, including reducing inflammation. EPA is mostly found in fatty fish, seafood and fish oil.

  1. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) – Found in Fatty Fish, Seafood, Fish Oil & Algae

DHA is a 22-carbon-long omega-3 fatty acid also primarily found in fatty fish, seafood and fish oils. It’s also found in algae. It’s main purpose is to serve as a structural component in cell membranes, specifically in nerve cells in the brain and eyes—even producing a whopping 40 percent of polyunsaturated fats in the brain.

  1. ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid) – Found In High-Fat Plant Foods, Nuts, Seeds & Grass-Fed Beef 

The most common of the omega-3s, ALA is an 18-carbon-long omega-3 fatty acid primarily present in high-fat plant foods. ALA must be converted into EPA and DHA in order to become active in the body, however, but this process is very inefficient in humans, which is why sources of this omega-3 shouldn’t be your only go-to.

What Are The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are very special, as they are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They kickstart the hormones responsible for regulating blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls and inflammation. They also attach to receptors in cells that control genetic function. Among the most studied nutrients on the planet, they have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, reduce the risk of cancers like colon, prostate and breast cancer, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, reduce inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune diseases and have even been found effective in treating menstrual pain.

What Foods Are High In Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Fish is one of the highest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, for instance, has 4023 mg per serving (EPA and DHA). Cod liver oil has 664 mg per serving (EPA and DHA). Sardines have 2205 mg per serving (EPA and DHA), and anchovies have 951 mg per serving (EPA and DHA). It’s recommended to consume about 8 oz per week or take fish oil. Meat, eggs and dairy products also contain decent amounts of EPA and DHA.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can take advantage of flax seeds, which have 2338 mg per serving (ALA). Chia seeds have 4915 mg per serving (ALA), and walnuts have 2542 mg per serving (ALA). There are many other plant foods high in ALA as well, like soybeans, hemp seeds, spinach and Brussels sprouts. Nonetheless, ALA should not be your only source of omega-3s, which is why a supplement is necessary, like Neuromins, which is derived from algae and provides the body with DHA.

READ THIS NEXT: 7 Healthy Fats To Eat For Weight Loss

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