Omega 3 fatty acids are an essential part of good health.
This page shows you:
- the benefits of these dietary fats
- best omega 3 sources (food and supplements)
- the difference between omega 3 vs omega 6
- the benefits of omega 3’s
- how to choose the best omega 3 supplements, and
- omega 3 deficiency symptoms.
Benefits of omega 3 fatty acids
These very healthy, natural fats benefit us because they:
- lower inflammation in the body
- lower blood triglycerides
- improve blood vessel elasticity
- thin the blood
- reduce blood pressure and
- may help reduce the risk of many health conditions including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
- can help you lose weight.
We should try to get more of our daily fat intake from these sources to help get balance in our dietary fat intake.
What exactly IS an omega 3 fat?
Simply, it’s a type of polyunsaturated fat that is important for normal human metabolism.
Types of omega 3 fats
There are three main types of omega 3’s that are important in human nutrition:
• Alpha linoleic acid (ALA) from flaxseeds (linseed), seaweeds, nuts and seeds,
• Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from seafood and water plants, and
• Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from seafood and brain tissue.
Our bodies need all three types for optimal health.
ALA’s can be converted by the body to EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is less than 30%, so it’s important to get enough EPA and DHA.
ALA conversion is lower when there are excess saturated fats, omega 6 fats and/or regular alcohol intake in your diet.
On that basis, vegans and vegetarians need to take care to get enough omega 3 fatty acids in their diets from plant sources, and to minimize both saturated fat and alcohol intake.
Omega 3 vs omega 6 fats
These names refer to different structural forms of fat. The numbers -3 and -6 indicate the double bonds on the fat molecule.
The more double bonds there are, the harder it is to break down the fat.
But more than that, research suggest that if you have higher dietary intake of omega 6 compared to omega 3, then you are more at risk of inflammation and certain diseases.
Western diets are usually out of balance; they tend to have too much saturated/trans and omega 6 fats, with not enough monounsaturated and omega 3 (polyunsaturated) fats.
Ideally, we would get roughly equal amounts of omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids – that is, close to a 1:1 ratio.
The actual ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats in Western societies is about 25:1, a far cry from the ideal 1:1 ratio.
This type of imbalance in the diet can lead to increased inflammation, problems with the immune system, and impaired hormone and brain activity.
These imbalances can be barriers to weight loss.
Best omega 3 sources
According to the World’s Healthiest foods, the best omega 3 foods are:
These are whole (unprocessed) foods high in omega 3, and are the best sources of omega 3.
Other foods containing omega 3 fatty acids include:
- Brussel sprouts
- Mustard seeds
If you’re thinking – what about fish? what are the fish with omega 3 ? – then here’s something to consider.
Most large fish species are known to be mercury contaminated.
So while all fish contain omega 3, many of them are either mercury-contaminated, or are at risk of overfishing.
Therefore, if you’re eating fish for omega 3, then choose small species like salmon, sardines and mackerel which are lower in the food chain and therefore, have a lower likelihood of containing high levels of mercury.
Don’t like fish? Omega 3 supplement benefits
If you don’t like fish, this is one of the benefits of omega 3 supplements.
Omega 3 fish oil capsules are an easy way to get a daily dose without having to eat fish.
The best omega 3 supplements are:
- guaranteed to be free of mercury
- produced sustainably
- manufactured in a way that preserves the structure of the omega 3 fatty acids.
The omega 3 dosage for most adults is at least 0.9g (900mg) of EPA and DHA combined, per day.
Note that your fish oil capsules will show total marine triglycerides (or similar) of about 1g (1000mg) per capsule.
But you are looking for EPA + DHA = at least 0.9g (900mg).
This should give you all the omega 3 fish oil benefits you’re looking for.
People with mood, skin or other disorders may need more. See below, and read more here about omega 3 dosage for health conditions, here.
Omega 3 deficiency symptoms
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for good health and for treating a number of serious health complaints.
Omega 3 deficiency is linked with several serious health conditions, including:
- Mood disorders (1)
- ADHD and other behavioural disorders (2), (3)
- Skin disorders such as dermatitis, folliculitis, acne, skin atrophy (4)
Many studies illustrate success when using omega 3 for depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, allergies and skin problems.
The fact that these and many other ‘modern’ lifestyle diseases are successfully treated with omega 3 (5), suggests that these conditions could be, in part, symptoms of an omega 3 deficiency.
If dietary intake of omega 3 is too low, we can lack the fuels needed for essential functions like making hormones and keeping skin and tissues healthy. This is a consideration for people on a low fat vegan diet.
(1) Parker et. Al (2006) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders. THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY Volume 163 Number 6.
(4) Bjerve et. al. (1989). Alpha-Linolenic acid and long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in three patients with omega-3 fatty acid deficiency: effect on lymphocyte function, plasma and red cell lipids, and prostanoid formation. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 49 (2).
(5) The Authors (2012) British Journal of Nutrition Volume 107, Supplement S2