Nutrition Corner: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A Star for Your Health?

SalmonOmega-3 fatty acids are a type of dietary fat that has been greatly studied over the years for its ability to improve health. This type of fatty acid is called an essential fatty acid because it is crucial for maintaining our heart and brain health and yet the body is unable to produce it. Therefore, we must ingest omega-3s from what we eat.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are both found in marine sources, including seaweed; and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plant sources like flax seeds. EPA is known for reducing inflammation in our body, which keeps our blood vessels and heart healthy. DHA plays an integral role in brain function, especially for the developing fetus and young children, by protecting cell membranes. Lastly, ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in the body; however, it is highly dependent on a person’s current health status, genetics, gender and general eating habits so you may need to eat more for the same results as EPA and DHA directly.

So, what is best? Studies show that eating two to three servings of marine animals high in omega-3s each week can help reduce a person’s risk for heart disease because of a reduction in triglycerides and blood pressure. Studies also show promise that regular omega-3 consumption is protective against cognitive decline and depressive disorders, although more research is needed on specific amounts.

The best sources include salmon, mackerel, sardines (see recipe), rainbow trout, herring, halibut, cod liver oil and anchovies. You also get some omega-3s from tuna, oysters, flax and chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans.

And how much? The National Institutes of Health suggests a range of amounts that depend on age and sex (see chart below). Because there isn’t one size that fits all, your provider or registered dietitian can suggest a dose that’s right for you, specifically if it involves supplementation.

Adequate intake measurements for omega-3s

  Age  Male  Female  Pregnant  Breast-feeding
Birth–6 months* 0.5 g 0.5 g
7–12 months 0.5 g 0.5 g
1–3 years** 0.7 g 0.7 g
4–8 years** 0.9 g 0.9 g
9–13 years** 1.2 g 1.0 g
14–18 years** 1.6 g 1.1 g 1.4 g 1.3 g
19–50 years** 1.6 g 1.1 g 1.4 g 1.3 g
51+ years** 1.6 g 1.1 g

g=grams  *as total omega-3s   **as ALA

Source: NIH

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