Omega-3 is the description given to a family of long-chain highly unsaturated fatty acids. We cannot make these fatty acids in our body so are called ESSENTIAL fatty acids as we need to consume them in our diet and they are important for our health and wellbeing.
Omega-3 is important for many different aspects of our health and there is evidence to suggest that there is a dose-response relationship between intake of omega-3 from dietary and supplementary sources, and it’s content in blood cells, lipids and other tissues. Omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated into cell membranes from where they effect cell signalling and hence health outcomes. There is evidence to suggest that omega-3 intake has amongst other benefits, a direct effect on the following health outcomes:
1. Cardiovascular health, including reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors such as heart rate and high serum triglycerides
2. Anti-inflammatory effects, such as a decrease in arthritic pain
3. Cognitive and visual development in the foetus. Supplementation during pregnancy plays a role in the ‘brain growth spurt’ from 28 weeks of gestation, with DHA (see below) supporting both cognitive and visual development.
There are three main forms of omega-3:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found mainly in plant based foods such as walnuts. Flaxseeds and soybean oil
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) found in fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel), fish oil and other marine sources
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) also found in fish sources, but also eggs and fortified products
Both EPA and DHA are long chain fatty acids and ALA is a short chain fatty acid. The most effective sources for our health are EPA and DHA. The body is able to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but it is not an efficient process. The UK government recommends we consume 450 mg/day, where one portion of salmon typically contains around 1.5-2 g of omega-3.
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, then it’s important to ensure your diet is rich in nuts, seeds and other plant based sources, and to consider taking a supplement. As a non-vegetarian/vegan two portions of fish a week, with one being oil fish is recommended by Public Health England to ensure your dietary needs are met.
This blog is put together with help from information from The Nutrition Society.
I have created tasty recipes using salmon – check out my Facebook Page for details! Wellbeing Nutrition.