The Importance of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Updated: Jun 20, 2019
What are Omega 3 fatty Acids ? What are the dietary sources? Why are they so important to our Health? All these question are answered as we tackle this important topic !
When we consume fats, our body breaks them down into fatty acids. There are two types of fats— saturated and unsaturated. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats and are essential fatty acids (EFA) because we require them for proper development and functioning, but our bodies don’t have the enzymes to produce them ourselves.
This means that we have to get them through our diet. Omega-3 is especially important for our health because it is anti-inflammatory and it reduces the risk of many chronic diseases that are driven by low-grade inflammation, such as cancer and heart disease. Grass-fed meat, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, nuts, flaxseeds, and olive oil are all rich in omega-3; however, there are three different types of this fatty acid—EPA, DHA, and ALA—and they’re not all equally beneficial. EPA and DHA are the most efficient and beneficial types of omega-3 and are found in animal sources, such as grass-fed meat and fish. On the contrary, ALA is found in many plant sources, such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
The problem with ALA is that our bodies don’t have the enzymes needed to use it as an omega-3 fatty acid, so instead, it is converted into EPA and DHA, and the rest is used or stored as energy. However, this conversion process can be quite inefficient, so only a small percentage is actually converted into EPA and DHA. As a result, it might be difficult for vegetarians to get enough omega-3 because they cannot directly consume EPA and DHA from meat and fish. Algae is the one great plant source of these two omega-3 fatty acids and can be bought in supplement form, so this is a great option for anyone who doesn’t eat meat.
Grass-fed meat, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, nuts, flaxseeds, and olive oil are all rich in omega-3.
Omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties and is essential for heart health, proper development, cognitive functioning, and more. It lowers blood pressure and improves heart rate, and it is also known to lower the risk of atherosclerosis because it reduces inflammation and therefore maintains proper blood vessel structure.
DHA, in particular, is used by the body to build the cell membrane of nerve cells. This is important for improving concentration, memory, and especially in protecting the nerve cells from damage. Deficiencies in omega-3 are known to increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It is critical that pregnant mothers get enough DHA because the foetus requires this nutrient for brain development. Many people who eat a Standard American Diet (SAD) have a deficiency in omega-3 and consume too much omega-6, which is pro-inflammatory. This deficiency in our diet is increasing the risk of different cancers, allergies, and heart disease because of the inflammatory environment it is creating in our bodies. Omega-3 even plays an important role in overall mood, as it reduces symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
If you find that you’re not consuming enough fatty fish, grass-fed meat, or other sources of omega-3, you might want to consider taking supplements to make sure that you are getting enough of this very vital nutrient.