You’ve likely heard that Omega-3 fats are “crazy good” for you, but if you’re like us, you might not have known exactly WHY they are such a powerhouse, and what the benefits really are. Fear not - we’ve done the research for you… By the time you are done reading this, you’ll surely be on your way to the store to get yourself some omega-3 rich foods!
So, what the heck are Omega-3’s?
Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids, meaning that while they are an extremely important part of every cell membrane in your body (more to come on this later), our bodies can’t produce them on its own; that’s why it’s important to get them in your diet and/or through high-quality supplements. There are three main omega-3 fatty acids: one short-chain fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and two long-chain fatty acids - eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
And what are omega-3’s good for?
Omega-3’s have been proven to offer countless great health benefits.
They improve the health of all the cell membranes in your body (oh a cool 37.2 TRILLION of them!!!). Basically, think of the cell membrane as a “big round envelope” around the cells, protecting them from inflammation and other damage so they can function properly. Omega-3s are literally the most important thing that protects the integrity of the cell membranes!
They are REALLY good for brain. Your brain is made up of at least 60% fat, so it’s important to consume healthy, polyunsaturated fats for optimal brain health.
DHA has been shown to boost memory and cognition.
Omega-3s can help treat ADHD symptoms.
Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy can have many wonderful benefits for baby, such as:
Higher intelligence and cognitive ability
Better communication and social skills
Fewer behavioral problems
Decreased risk of developmental delay, ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy
They are also really great for your heart. Benefits include:
Lower blood pressure
Increased “good” HDL cholesterol levels
Preventing blood clots and reducing plaque build-up in arteries
They are even being studied to fight cancer, especially breast cancer.
OK - I’m sold! How can I get Omega-3s in my diet?
EPA and DHA come primarily from fish, so they are sometimes called marine Omega-3s. ALA is the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, and can be found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat (particularly in grass-fed animals). Our body generally uses ALA for energy, so conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited.
Here are some examples of foods where you can find healthy amounts of omega-3’s:
Mackerel (4.1g per serving)
Salmon (4g per serving)
Cod Liver Oil (2.6g per serving)
Herring (3.2g per Serving)
Sardines (2.2g per serving)
Flaxseeds (2.3g per serving)
Chia Seeds (4.9g per serving)
Walnuts (2.5g per serving)
Hemp oil (2.7g per serving
Seaweed (.1g per serving)*
*Seaweed and microalgae are the only plant sources of EPA and DHA, however they contain a very low concentration due to their extremely low total fat content. One serving of blue-green algae (spirulina) provides about 100mg of EPA, but little DHA.
If you are curious about how many omega-3s can be found in other foods, you can search the super comprehensive USDA Food Composition Database for nutritional content (including ALA, DHA, and EPA) for basically any food you can imagine!
How much Omega-3 fats should I be consuming?
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats - arguably the healthiest kind of fats. The American Heart Association suggests that 8-10% of our daily calories should come from polyunsaturated fats. Further, there is evidence that eating more polyunsaturated fat - up to 15% of daily calories! - can lower heart disease risk.
There are no recommended amounts for omega-3 fatty acids, except for ALA. The average daily recommended minimum amounts for ALA can be found below - and are listed in grams (g). You can see the amount you need depends on your age and sex.
Birth to 12 months*: 0.5 g
Children 1–3 years: 0.7 g
Children 4–8 years: 0.9 g
Boys 9–13 years: 1.2 g
Girls 9–13 years: 1.0 g
Teen boys 14–18 years: 1.6 g
Teen girls 14–18 years: 1.1 g
Men: 1.6 g
Women: 1.1 g
Pregnant women: 1.4 g
Breastfeeding women: 1.3 g
*As total omega-3s. All other values are for ALA alone.
So what do you think, ready to get some more omega-3s in your diet?! Head over to Facebook and let us know how you're incorporating them into your diet!