The benefits of Omega-3 and why you need it in your diet!

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Omega-3 is a type of essential polyunsaturated (chemically = many double bonds) fatty acid which you can only get from your diet.


It’s essential because your body cannot produce it without food. (1)

 

What does Omega-3's even do?


Omega 3 comes in various forms, alpha linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA acts as a precursor (basically initiates the formation of another molecule) and is converted into the more active forms of Omega 3, which are EPA and DHA. However, only a small amount of ALA is successfully converted into adequate forms of EPA and DHA. (2)

Therefore, consuming omega-3's in the forms of EPA & DHA have been found to be most useful to optimise health benefits. (3)

 Model of the brain and eye

Healthy fatty acids like Omega-3 have an important role in improving visual and brain health. Upon consumption, they constitute the structural components of our eyes and brain. Making them important for optimal bodily functioning.


They are also used to build the walls of your cells and the presence of Omega-3s in the cell wall helps to increase membrane fluidity.

Membrane whaaat…?? A fluid membrane ensures that the diffusion of necessary transporters, hormones and other molecules into the cell can occur easily allowing the body to continue functioning optimally. (4)

Omega-3s also help to:

  • Decrease Inflammation (anti-inflammatory properties) **A decrease in inflammation during anxiety and depressive states can help to alleviate symptoms and increase serotonin and dopamine (the feel good hormones). (5)

  • Improve heart disease factors by: Decreasing blood pressure Decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol Increasing HDL (good) cholesterol **These factors assist to prevent atherosclerosis from the fat deposition throughout the blood vessels. (6)

  • Improves visual acuity by preventing vision impairment and blindness. **DHA is a major component of the retina of the eye.

  • Enhances brain development of foetus ** 8% of our brain is made of DHA, therefore ensuring maternal Omega-3 levels are sufficient is important for enhanced cognitive development of the foetus.

  • Improves insulin resistance and further complications of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (7) ** Insulin is a hormone which carries carbohydrates for utilisation, by transporting them into our cells for energy. As Omega-3 enhances a healthy cell membrane, the transport of glucose into the cells (by insulin) is much easier!

  • EPA & DHA has also been found to benefit cognitive function in mild cases of Alzheimer’s disease. (3)

 

How do you know if you are low in Omega-3?

Studies show numerous health benefits from consuming omega-3. (8) However, Western diets nowadays are lowest in omega-3 sources than it has ever been.

The first signs of deficiency show symptoms of: (1)

  • Brittle Nails

  • Dry Skin

  • Dandruff

  • Mood Swings

  • Fatigue

These symptoms can be somewhat irritating but can be often be overlooked and left undiagnosed. Ignoring these symptoms can lead to sub-optimal functioning of the body and long-term deficiency displaying visual and memory impairments and increased markers of cardiovascular disease.


These symptoms may not only be due to low omega-3 but it could be due to a high consumption of omega-6 (another essential fatty acid). Ideally, these fatty acids should be consumed at similar ratios however, Western diets have been prone to contain significantly higher amounts of Omega-6. (1)

It is extremely common in Western diets to use vegetable oils to cook almost all our meals. High omega-6 content has been found in these oils, particularly in sunflower, corn and soybean oil. (1)

Omega-6 is a pro-inflammatory fatty acid and has merit health benefits however in excessive amounts inflammation can become chronic. Therefore, maintenance of high omega-6 in comparison to omega-3 can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, some metabolic syndromes and certain cancers.

When Omega-3 is obtained at similar ratios to Omega-6 assists, it's anti-inflammatory properties help to balance out it's negative side effects.

To combat this ratio, add more omega-3s in your diet!

 

What type & how much of Omega-3 should I be consuming?


You should be consuming all of them! However, it is important to consume sources of EPA & DHA as they are readily in active forms and ALA is inefficient for this conversion.

Nevertheless, ALA has still shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol which prevents atherosclerosis (fat deposition of the blood vessels). (6)

ALA's are most commonly found in plant sources and aiming to consume approximately 1g of an ALA plant source per day is sufficient.

The following table provides food sources rich in ALA and the serving size to obtain 1g of ALA.

Table of Food sources of alpha-linoleic acid, omega-3 fatty acid with serving sizes to receive sufficient ALA per day
Bowl of Green Salad with Tomatoes, Egg, Tofu, Edamame, Corn and Cabbage

EPA produces eicosanoids which helps to reduce inflammation. (9) DHA makes up 8% of our brains… do I need to say more..? (10) According to the Australian Heart Foundation, 250-500mg of DHA & EPA per day is sufficient enough to receive both of their anti-inflammatory and cognitive benefits.

Consuming at least 2 serves (150-200g) of the following marine sources per week will provide a sufficient amount of daily omega-3 requirements:

Raw Salmon on Baking Paper
  • Mackerel

  • Salmon

  • Herring

  • Seaweed

  • Barramundi

  • Flathead


 

What if I don't eat seafood?


If seafood isn’t your thing, you can still receive good sources of ALA. However due to its inefficient conversion, it is suggested to use a fish oil or cod liver oil supplement instead.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, supplements made from microalgae are beneficial. Generally, one capsule of microalgae supplements can provide sufficient daily requirements of DHA & EPA.

 

Check out these recipes which are high in omega-3

 

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4175558/

  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16188209/

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262608/

  4. https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1096/fasebj.24.1_supplement.939.12

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976923/

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350958/

  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19593941/)

  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6357022/

  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257651/

  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18789910/

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