Omega 3’s 101

Jamie Stephens, NTP
Omega Chi? Omega 3? What?

It sounds like a Greek Fraternity house name at the local college, right? Actually, they have nothing to do with college parties, but the Greeks do get a lot of them in their mediterranean style diet consisting of healthy fats and fish. Omega 3’s, found in healthy fats, are a type of essential fatty acid that all animals and humans need for optimal health. It’s called “essential” because it is essential for our bodies to function properly, and our body is not able to make it on its own. Which means, of course, that we must get it from plant or animal sources in the form of food or supplements. The 3 main kinds of Omega 3’s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA(docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA( α-linolenic acid). (1).

Why Are They Important?

Omega 3’s are incredibly beneficial for our health. They are vital for optimal functioning of almost every system of the body as well as making up the cell membranes for every cell in your body. (1) It’s important for almost every function and system in the body to keep you healthy and performing at your best. Not to mention, some studies show omega 3’s actually play a role in healthy weight loss by promoting a feeling of satiation and lessening feelings of hunger. (1)  A good rule of thumb to remember is ALA supports blood glucose balance, DHA supports brain and mood health, and EPA supports cardiovascular and heart health. Below is a broader list of the Omega 3 benefits. In addition, ALA is also considered an antioxidant and aids the body in repairing free radical damage. Yay! It helps keep us young and beautiful too!

Omega 3’s EPA & DHA support the following..

  • Healthy Weight Management
  • Healthy Cell Membranes
  • Brain structure and function
  • Memory and cognition
  • Normal nervous system function
  • Immune system function
  • Healthy blood sugar levels
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Healthy Triglyceride balance
  • Positive and balanced moods
  • Healthy inflammatory response
  • Joint health
  • Healthy pregnancy
  • Fetal brain and visual development
  • Skin health

Omega 3 ALA supports…

  • Optimal nerve health
  • Normal glucose metabolism
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Eye health
  • Cellular repair
  • Protects against oxidative stress
  • Skin health
Where Can You Get Omega 3’s?

You need to get omega 3 fatty acids in your diet or else supplement with them. Most people get enough ALA from commonly used vegetable oils in their diet, and interestingly your body can actually convert ALA into EPA and DHA. However, the body cannot convert enough for your daily needs and optimal functioning. Because of this, it’s typically DHA and EPA that most people need more of. The good thing is that DHA and EPA usually come together in most food sources. The list below are common food sources of where to find these omega fatty acids. Also check out this great Noom recipe for a fun and tasty meal rich in Omega 3’s: Salmon Burgers with Sriracha Mayo.

ALA

  • Flax
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Seaweed and algae
  • Organ meats (heart and liver)

EPA/DHA:

The best food sources are Wild Caught Fatty fish and seafood such as:

  • Salmon,
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Caviar
  • Oysters

Other sources:

  • Grass fed beef
  • Grass fed dairy
  • Pasture raised eggs
  • Marine Algae

 

What About Supplements?

Maybe you don’t like fish, maybe you’re a vegetarian, or maybe you just don’t want to cook; all great reasons to supplement your omega 3’s. Below is a list of supplements you can take for additional ALA, DHA and EPA. When supplementing, know that quality does matter; check out this Noom article for more information:  Decoding Supplement Labels  

ALA

  • Alpha Lipoic Acid supplement
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Hemp oil

EPA/DHA

  • Fish oil
  • Salmon oil
  • Cod Liver oil
  • Krill oil
  • Vegan option- Algal oil/Marine Algae
Finally, How Much Do I Need?

Currently there is no set standard for how much omega-3 one should have daily; however, most science backed health organizations recommend a minimum of 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for adults. (1 ,2) The National Academy of Medicine says adequate intake of ALA for an adult female is 1.1grams and 1.6 for males.(1)  The American Heart Association recommends 1 gram or 1000mg of combined  EPA and DHA daily. In food sources, that equates to roughly eating a serving of fatty fish twice per week. For specific health related concerns, it’s best to consult your doctor for appropriate dosage. Additionally, check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are on any prescription medications for possible drug-supplement interactions. Fish oil is a known blood thinner and can interact with blood thinning medications. Lastly, make sure to read the bottle for the total omegas as well as actual amount of DHA and EPA. Typically a fish oil supplement is 1,000 mg total with 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA, but this can vary, so make sure to check if you are aiming for a specific amount of either DHA or EPA. (1)  

Author: Jamie Stephens, NTP