Getting Enough Omega3 In Your Diet

Concerned about getting enough omega-3 in your diet? It's easy if you know which foods to eat and which supplements to take.

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is beneficial, but not essential, for the human body. Important for brain and nerve functioning, studies have also shown that Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and rheumatoid arthritis; it is also shown to lower cholesterol levels.

There are two types of Omega-3 acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both are derived from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Alpha-linolenic acid is found in plant-based foods, while Omega-3 fatty acids are found in animal based foods, especially marine organisms.

Aquatic plants such as plankton and algae contain alpha-linolenic acid, which they synthesize into Omega-3 fatty acids. These aquatic plants are then eaten by certain types of fish and shellfish and become rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Why is it Important?

The human body does not manufacture Omega-3 fatty acids, nor is it very efficient at synthesizing alpha-linolenic acid. Therefore, foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids must be incorporated into your diet. It is important to get enough Omega-3 in your diet to maintain the proper ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6, another polyunsaturated fatty acid. Both acids are beneficial, but only in the correct ratio.

The modern day diet is often deficient in Omega-3, which upsets the delicate balance between these two fatty acids. There are several reasons for this. The first is that more people are eating processed foods containing hydrogenated oils. The hydrogenation process destroys Omeag-3 fatty acids. Second, people are eating more grain-fed (corn and soy) meat instead of grass fed meat. Third, people are not consuming as much fish; and finally, they are eating too many food products that contain Omega 6 fatty acids, such as corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil.

What Foods Contain Omega-3?

The best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish that live in cold-water habitats. Examples include herring, sardines, salmon, mackerel, lake and rainbow trout, arctic char, albacore tuna, sprat, crabs, scallops, and shrimp.



Canned tuna does not qualify because the natural oils from the tuna are usually replaced with soy or other oils. Two servings a week or a total of 12 ounces total is recommended in addition to other foods containing Omega 3, typically plants (see below) or fortified foods such as eggs or bread enriched with Omega-3 fatty acids.

Plant based sources of alpha-linolenic acid are especially important for those with vegetarian diets. Approximately 1.5 to 3 grams per day of alpha-linolenic acid from plant-based sources is recommended. Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, canola oil, soybeans, squash, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli, and pumpkin seeds all have significant amounts of alpha-linolenic acid.

Other seeds that are not as well known, but are also good sources of alpha-linolenic acid are chai seeds, used by Native American populations in the Southwestern United States, and seeds of the purslane plant, a common roadside weed.

Flax seeds, which are not chewed like pumpkin seeds for example, will pass through the body if they are not ground up before being eaten. Store flaxseed and walnut oils in the refrigerator. Both can be used to make salad dressings, but should not be used in cooking, as heat destroys Omega-3 fatty acids.

Supplements

If you don't like fish or are worried about the levels of pollutants found in fish, then cod liver oil and fish oil supplements are an easy way to get enough Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Supplements are available in capsule or liquid form and have no adverse side effects.

Buy supplements from reputable companies to be sure that pollutants and toxins have been removed from fish during processing. The recommended dosage is to take three 1-gram capsules or one to two teaspoons of fish oil three times a day.

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