Omega-3 fatty acids are substances that your body requires in order to carry out various daily functions. Unfortunately, the body cannot make omega-3 fatty acids by itself, and therefore, we must ingest these healthy fats from food. Two important types of omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Docosahexaenoic acid and EPA can be found in animal-based food sources including fatty fish and shellfish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, mussels, oysters, and crabs.
Research has shown that consuming omega-3 fatty acids can positively impact your health. EPA, specifically, has shown to reduce inflammation, which helps keep metabolic processes in the body balanced and properly functioning. Research suggests that consuming EPA can help improve symptoms of people with depressive disorders.
DHA fatty acids provide a key structural role in many cell membranes, especially in the eyes, brain, and sperm. These fatty acids are also used to form eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are signaling molecules used throughout the body to elicit specific responses from other cells. They are primarily used when regulating responses related to inflammation, allergies, fever, or blood pressure.
Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids for adults over 18 years old is 1.6 g for males and 1.1 g for females daily. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least 2 times per week to obtain sufficient amounts of these healthy fats. For those who do not consume fish, one easy way to get enough omega-3 fatty acids is by taking fish oil supplements. Fish oil capsules contain both DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. These supplements are a great option as they are generally low cost and can be easily added into your daily diet.
To prevent a fishy aftertaste, try taking them with the largest meal of the day. Another way to avoid fishy burps and aftertaste is by purchasing enteric-coated capsules. The coating on these capsules delay the point in time in which the capsule is digested in the digestive tract. However, expert from the Food and Drug Administration, Siobhan Delancey, advises that absorption of supplements might not reach its fullest potential when coated as some of these supplements are best absorbed and utilized in the stomach. Overall, fish oil capsules can be an easy way to supplement healthy fats into your diet, especially for those who do not consume fish.
1. Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2012 [cited 2018 Aug 28]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/
Thank you to dietetic intern Molly Lowery for her contributions to and creation of this post.
Fat is the poor, misunderstood stepchild of the macronutrient world. Twenty years ago the media condemned all fat as bad and it was subsequently banned from cookies, crackers, potato chips, soups, yogurt, milk, and (the horror!) ice cream. It’s true that fat is very energy dense, but we absolutely need fat. In fact our bodies can’t survive without a certain amount of “essential” Omega-3 and Omega-6 fat. On the other hand some types of fat, like trans fat, should indeed be limited.
Essential fats: Omega-3 and 6
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are “essential” fats, meaning that our bodies cannot manufacture these fats on its own and must therefore get them from food sources. These fats are vital components of cell membranes and help transport fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, Omega-3 fats help reduce blood pressure and inflammation, and are therefore associated with improved long term cardiovascular health (see Jamie’s recent post on the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet). Omega-6 fats, while still essential, often cause an increase in blood pressure. Although we technically need both types fat, we tend to get more than enough of the Omega-6 fatty acids and not nearly enough of the Omega-3 fatty acids.
Do a little research and see if you can answer the following questions about essential fatty acids: What are some primary sources of omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids? What is the recommended consumption ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids? What ratio does the typical American diet provide? Would it be possible to integrate more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet?
There really aren’t many foods that I consider truly “bad”, but there’s nothing good about hydrogenated or trans fat, at least from a health perspective. Hydrogenation is an artificial process used to extend the shelf life of foods and/or provide a certain mouth feel. Hydrogenated fat is particularly bad for you because it not only increases “bad” LDL cholesterol and inflammation (major risk factors for heart disease), but also decreases your “good” HDL cholesterol.
Do a little research and see if you can answer the following questions about trans fat. What are some primary food sources of trans fat? How many grams of trans fat are recommended per day? How many grams of trans fat do you think you consume on a daily basis? What are some healthier alternatives to trans fat?