Ever wondered why Omega-3s are called “essential” fatty acids? They are essential to our health, because our bodies can’t produce fatty acids on their own. We rely on omega-3 foods in our diet to supply these highly beneficial and needed nutrients.
Without getting too complicated, basically there are three different types of omega-3s:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA),
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
If you want to know which are more “essential” than the others, EPA and DHA are the more sought after ones. You will find these in seafood, such as sardines and salmon. ALA, also vital, is more found in plant foods like nuts and seeds and excellent meat such as beef. Don’t forget that ‘excellent’ meat is strictly grass-fed cattle, not cattle fed on grains and pumped with hormones and other unhealthy substances, substances which the poor cattle have to endure and which get passed into our systems when we eat.
Should you take omega-3 supplements?
If you are eating a healthy diet, with plenty of the right nutrients, you might think that taking a supplement of fish oil is not necessary for you, especially if you are eating the fish itself, right? It is true that supplements won’t be able to undo the effects of a bad diet, but not many of us are able to eat the recommended amounts of oily fish required for good health. In fact, 90% of Americans are not getting enough Omega-3s in their diet alone, so supplementation is recommended.
If we look back in history, we can see that populations of people which eat plenty of omega-3 foods, like the Japanese people living in Okinawa, live longer – they are exceptionally healthy. It’s a diet that gets down to the basics, plenty of omega 3 foods; a diet high in orange, green, and yellow veggies. They go light on their grains and focus more on eating plenty of purple sweet potatoes. They eat grass-fed cattle meat, pork, seafood, and plenty of legumes and soy. Their diet is basically very low in sugars and grains. But it’s interesting because diet also goes along with a healthy lifestyle and the Okinawans are known to:
- Have a purpose in life; they are responsible, having a reason for getting up in the morning.
- They rely heavily on plant-based diets, high in sweet potatoes, nuts, and seeds.
- They grow their own gardens, a daily source of therapy for them, and they eat the fresh produce of these gardens.
- They are very social, offering support and rallying around their friends and family; in the good times as well as the bad.
- They enjoy the sunshine which provides vitamin D.
- They are very active.
- Their medicine comes from plants, such as ginger, mugwort, and turmeric.
- They believe in hard work, yet enjoy simple pleasures.
Other countries that eat plenty of omega-3 foods are those in the Mediterranean regions such as the Italians, Spanish, Greeks, French, and Turks. They are known to suffer much lower incidences of heart disease, which is considered to be due to the intake of omega 3 foods which are regularly seen on their plates.
Even though omega-3 today is artificially added to many processed foods such as baby formulas, peanut butter, and some protein powders, it is way better to get your omega-3s from real, whole food sources, particularly wild-caught seafood, or a high quality fish oil supplement.
Symptoms of an omega-3 deficiency
Many people do not get the recommended amounts of omega-3 – about 1-3 grams per day; this is according to the American Heart Association. Check out these deficiency symptoms:
- Dry and rough, bumpy skin
- Dull, dry, brittle hair, as well as dandruff
- Nails that are soft and peel easily; also brittle
- Excessive thirst
- Difficulty with sleeping
- Insufficient attention span
- Excessive mood swings, anxiety, and depression
A doctor can perform a fatty acid profile for you, through a blood test. In order to overcome a lack of omega-3, you need to eat foods which will increase the levels of fatty acids in your body or take supplements.
… And the benefits
- It helps for cardiovascular health, which mean blood pressure is lowered, cholesterol is lowered, prevention of hardening of the arteries
- It reduces bone, joint, and muscle pain because it lowers the inflammation
- It improves the mood, combatting depression
- It sharpens the mind and memory, helping with learning and concentration
- It boosts your immune system
- Digestive orders like ulcerative colitis are treated
- Lowers the risk of cancers or developing cancer
- Improvement in skin health
Natural sources of Omega-3
Seeds and nuts that contain Omega-3: Walnuts, flaxseeds, chia, Brazil nuts, butternuts, cashews, hazelnuts, hemp seeds
Vegetables: Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and watercress.
Oils: Many oils contain omega-3 to a certain degree, but top oils are Canola oil, mustard oil, flaxseed oil, soybean oil, walnut oil.
The best omega-3 foodsTop 15 omega-3 foods (percentages are based on 4,000 milligrams per day of total omega-3):
- Atlantic Mackerel: 1 cup = 6,982 milligrams
- Salmon fish oil: 1 tablespoon = 4,767 milligrams
- Walnuts: ¼-cup = 2,664 milligrams
- Chia seeds: 1 tablespoon = 2,457 milligrams
- Herring: 3 ounces = 1,885 milligrams
- Alaskan Salmon (wild-caught): 3 ounces = 1,716 milligrams
- Ground flaxseeds: 1 Tablespoon = 1,597 milligrams
- Albacore Tuna: 3 ounces = 1,414 milligrams
- White Fish: 3 ounces = 1,363 milligrams
- Sardines: 1 can 0f 3.75 ounces = 1,363 milligrams
- Hemp Seeds: 1 tablespoon = 1,000 milligrams
- Anchovies: 1 can of 2 ounces = 951 milligrams
- Natto: ¼-cup = 428 milligrams
- Egg Yolks: ½-cup = 240 milligrams
Some foods are better to stay away from even though they claim to contain plenty of omega-3. For instance, conventionally raised meat which comes from cattle that are not raised naturally, i.e. not grass fed, or allowed to roam free and graze – stay away from that meat and dairy. Also stay away from farm-raised fish, particularly salmon. Farm-raised fish is much more inferior to fish that is wild-caught because it is often contaminated. Farm raised fish is known to contain concentrations of antibiotics in them as well as pesticides. It is for this reason that people prefer supplementing their diets with fish oil.
Yes, the omega-3s are certainly “essential” fatty acids that your body will thank you for incorporating in your diet. Dr. L Cordain from the Colorado State University says of omega-3 that it is probably the most important dietary recommendation to prevent chronic disease and to improve our health. To do that, he says, we need to ‘increase our dietary supply of omega 3 fatty acids, which are found primarily in oily fish’.