If you follow your local supermarket advertisements or read up on recent health trends, you’ve probably heard about the touted benefits of fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids. But are omega-3s another one food wonder, a marketing scheme, or are they legitimately important for health? Well, all the current research (and common sense) indicates that omega-3 fatty acids have important health benefits and are in-fact essential for good health. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the “essential fatty acids,” along with omega-6, and omega-9, because our bodies can’t produce them but need them for many important functions.
To the detriment of our health, Omega-3 fatty acids are the least consumed essential fatty acids in the American diet. The best sources of naturally occurring Omega-3 are cold-water seafood, especially salmon, cod-liver oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. While many people enjoy salmon and other seafoods, most don’t eat them often enough to meet the body’s requirement for omega-3s. Also while walnuts and flaxseeds are plentiful in a form of omega-3s, called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), it must be converted by the body into the two useful forms of omega-3s, called Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), before it can produce important health benefits. Moreover, many people’s bodies aren’t able to effectively convert ALA into its useful forms. Therefore, omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA obtained from seafood or supplements are an important consideration for optimum health.
But how do omega-3s support health? Researchers are discovering a number of rolls omega-3s play in the body. For one, they are one of the main components of the brain, which is primarily a fatty-tissue. They are also used in the body to produce anti-inflammatory effects, which can result in a strengthened immune system, help prevent stroke and heart disease, reduce the effects of arthritis, and strengthen the cardiovascular system. Omega-3s also play an important role in hormone regulation and fetal development. Finally, there is reason to believe that adequate consumption of omega-3s may prevent or lessen the effects of depression.
The amount of Omega-3s our bodies need is based on an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. The ideal ratio is thought to be between 4:1 and 1:1. Most American’s consume far too many omega-6 fatty acids due to the high intake of polyunsaturated fats found in refined oils like corn and canola oil. As a result, many Americans have a ratio upwards of 16:1! Correcting this ratio requires consuming fewer refined corn and canola oils (switch to olive oil, butter, or coconut oil instead), and eating more salmon, other seafood, or taking fish oil supplements. The typically recommended amounts of omega-3s are from 1 to 5 grams per day. Personally, I take about 2.5 grams of omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA from fish oil daily. If you go the supplement route, be sure to purchase fish oil that is purified of mercury. Krill oil is another option, but tends to be far more expensive. For the brave, there is also cod-liver oil (which also contains high amounts of vitamin D). If you prefer to obtain your nutrients through whole foods alone, keep in mind that 200 grams of wild coho salmon contains a little over 2 grams of omega-3s (which means you would have to eat wild salmon daily to get a healthy amount of omega-3s). The best option for obtaining enough omega-3s through whole foods is eating a mix of salmon (and other cold-water ocean fish), grass fed meat, flax seed, and walnuts.
So yes, omega-3s are fishy business, but they are vital for good health!
Originally posted 2012-01-12 19:44:00.