You have probably heard the term good fats and bad fats being thrown around. Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. It is a complex topic. Clearly though, omega-3s are definitely a type of good fat that you probably should be including more in your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids refer to a family of essential fatty acids that play numerous important roles within the body. Our bodies do not produce these types of fats on their own and therefore we must get them from food. There are a number of different types of Omega-3 fatty acids but the three most important types are:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
Not only does your body require Omega-3 fatty acids to function, but they also deliver a number of proven health benefits.
Improves Eye Health
DHA is a major structural component of the retina of the eye. A lack of omega-3s in the diet can lead to issues with vision such as blindness.
Including enough omega-3s in the diet has been linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration. This is a leading cause of permanent eye damage and blindness.
Help Fight Depression and Anxiety
What is even more interesting is that when people who have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety start to include omega-3s in their diet, their symptoms often improve.
Of the three types, EPA has proven to be the most beneficial in fighting depression.
Help Promote Brain Health in Early Life
Omega-3s play a crucial role in infant brain development.
Similarly to the retina, DHA contributes greatly to the structural component of the brain. It is used in preference over other fatty acids.
Consuming enough DHA in pregnancy has been associated with a number of benefits for the infant. These include decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy, decreased risk of developmental delay, higher intelligence and better communication and social skills.
Improves Heart Health
Omega-3s are proven to be very beneficial for heart health. Incorporating more in the diet has been shown to lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure and increase HDL cholesterol. Omega-3s can also prevent blood platelets from clumping together and forming harmful blood clots. Similarly, they help prevent plaque that can build up within arteries causing restrictions and hardening.
May Help Fight Age-Related Mental Decline
More research is needed in this area. Promisingly though, a number of preliminary studies have shown that a higher Omega-3 intake is associated with a decreased rate of age-related mental decline. It is also associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, particularly when used in the early stages.
Omega-3’s Potential for Inflammation & Joint Health
The anti-inflammatory and other beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids have been the topic of a lot of research. However, often the demonstrated benefits have been done in experimental models, animal studies, or are findings from observational epidemiological studies.
It can be difficult to definitively say supplementing with omega-3’s will have a significant effect on reducing inflammation.
Many studies have shown that EPA and DHA have some influence in inhibiting inflammatory processes. Therefore they may be useful in reducing inflammation in the body particularly in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3 & Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Omega 3 has many potential benefits amongst an athletic population. One of those benefits relates to delayed onset muscle soreness or “DOMS”.
Omega 3’s have been shown to help reduce DOMs after exercise. This is likely due to how omega 3 impacts the inflammatory response.
One study highlighted that 2.7g of omega-3 daily for 30 days resulted in a reduction in C-Reactive Protein. This is a sign that it reduces inflammation. There were also reductions in self-reported muscle soreness.
Other research in this field has also supported these findings.
However, not all research has shown a positive effect. How much omega-3 can reduce DOMS is uncertain, although the evidence overall is promising.
How to Include More Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Your Diet
Guidelines recommending the amount of omega-3s we need each day have been developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council. To lower the risk of chronic disease men should be consuming 610mg of Omega-3 Fatty acids a day and women 430mg/day.
Getting your omega-3s from wholefood sources is the best way to ensure optimal levels of omega-3s.
Great sources of EPA and DHA fatty acids are oily fish such as salmon, anchovies and mackerel. Meanwhile good sources of ALA are walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil and soybeans.
Wild-caught fish have higher levels of omega-3s than farmed.
Pregnant women should avoid fish with high levels of mercury such as mackerel, tuna and swordfish.
Should I Take a Supplement?
Eating fatty fish 2-3 times a week is the easiest way to meet Omega-3 recommendations. This provides around 250-500mg of EPA and DHA per day.
For those who don’t eat enough fatty fish or seafood, it could be worth considering a supplement.
Fish oil and krill oil supplements are best as they contain both EPA and DHA. A typical fish oil capsule obtainable at most pharmacies contains a total of 300mg combined DHA and EPA. This is usually split like 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA.
Alternatively, vegetarians and vegans might want to try taking a DHA supplement made from algae.
Ensure that you always consult your doctor or dietitian prior to supplementing. There is a chance of contraindications depending on your health and if you are taking other medications.