In recent years, “Omega 3 Fatty Acids” has become a catchphrase, so to speak, for anyone concerned with his or her health. Perhaps because of its popularity there seems to be a lot of disinformation about Omega 3’s so we thought it was time to clear up some things. We’ve collected some useful data, along with some not-so-useful but oh-so-interesting facts; for example, did you know that Omega 3’s benefits were discovered during a study of the Greenland Inuit tribe? Although they’re big meat eaters, the Inuit people of Greenland displayed virtually no cardiovascular disease and the study concluded this was due to their high intake of Omega 3’s. Here’s another fun fact: Kangaroo meat is also rich in Omega 3’s.
Benefits of Omega 3’s
Some benefits of Omega 3’s are a reduction in the risks for cardiovascular disease, such as reducing triglycerides, possibly reducing the risk for heart attack and perhaps even reducing blood pressure. Some studies report anti-cancer effects, which is not surprising due to their anti-inflammatory properties. There is also a belief that Omega 3’s help the brain repair damage, which actually makes sense since our brains are composed of 60% fats. Omega 3’s are also used to treat children with ADHD, Autism and other disorders. Low levels of Omega 3’s have been linked with depression, memory loss and Schizophrenia. Another benefit is helping with eczema, as well as contributing to clear, glowing skin. This is due to the anti-inflammatory properties which fight the inflammation of skin and cause eczema acne and also the Omega 3 fats which contribute to glowing, wrinkle-free skin.
Components of Omega 3’s
Omega 3’s contain, among others, DHA (docasahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and ALA (a-linolenic acid). Only DHA and EPA have proven to have major cardiovascular benefits, however, the only way to consume them directly is to consume marine microalgae or the fish that eat it. Consuming other sources, such as walnuts and flaxseed oil is also fine, but keep in mind that these contain only ALA and thus the body has to convert it into DHA/EPA.
Vegetarian sources and Non-vegetarian Sources of Omega 3
Flaxseed is an excellent source of ALA, but as mentioned above, the body has to convert it into molecules which then convert DHA and EPA. Dark green leafy vegetables also contain ALA, as well as some nuts such as walnuts (including walnut oil). Eggs which are produced by chickens that are fed a diet high in Omega 3’s also have some amount of DHA & EPA and there is also a certain amount of Omega 3’s in meat and chicken, especially grass-fed. Fish, as mentioned above, have the highest concentrations of DHA & EPA and wild fish are your best bet. The best fish to consume are: salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines. Non-wild fish should only be consumed in moderation because of contaminants (see below).
All Sources are Not Created Equal
Nowadays, unfortunately, fish contain large quantities of contaminants such as mercury, lead, PCBs and hormones. Purchasing wild fish is not always an option because of their price and availability. As mentioned above, flaxseed and other vegetarian sources are not a direct form of DHA/EPA and the ALA they contain must be converted to DHA/EPA. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but keep in mind that certain people do not convert the ALA as efficiently as others for various reasons.
The Best Forms of Omega 3’s for You and Your Children
I recommend taking high quality fish oils in a spoon on a daily basis, as well as encouraging your children to eat leafy greens and using walnut oil in salads and walnuts in trail mixes, etc. Leafy greens and walnuts contain important phytochemicals and nutrients that protect against cancer and other diseases so it’s crucial to consume them on a regular basis but if you can’t give them to your children every single day, at least their Omega 3’s intake will be covered by the fish oils. Many products have fish oils that do not have a fishy taste and some even have a lemony or orange flavor, or other kid-friendly flavors.
Dealing with Food Allergies
If you or your child has an allergy to foods that contain Omega 3’s, it’s best to consult your doctor to find a way to still incorporate Omega 3’s into the diet. For example, my daughter is allergic to certain fish but the fish oils I give her are derived from other types of fish to which she is not allergic.
For adults, up to 3 grams is considered safe (with many studies using a 4 gram or above dosage). For infants and toddlers, 400 grams seems to be the popular choice (based on supplements) but consult with your pediatrician first.
As for me, I’m off to find myself a kangaroo for some yummy barbecue. Grass-fed only, of course.