The incredible benefits of omega 3 foods are making them one of the most popular items in our daily diets today. You’ve most likely seen the phrase “Good Source of Omega 3” on the labels of all types of food products in your grocery store, attesting to the recognized value of these essential fatty acids.
Omega 3 foods have many types of fatty acids, with the ones most well-known for good health being alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); these are all called polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The other main essential fatty acids are linoleic acid (omega 6). While most people get an ample amount of omega 6's in their diets, mostly from vegetable oils, our intake of omega 3 foods is generally very low. Omega 9’s are the most abundant fatty acids — they are not considered essential because you can make them from other unsaturated fats in your body. See my page on essential fatty acids to learn more about these valuable nutrients.
Omega 3 fatty acids are probably the most important fats for your health. The primary reason for many omega 3 benefits is because omega 3 fats tend to suppress inflammation, a primary cause of many of the degenerative diseases so common today — heart disease, diabetes, alzheimers, arthritis, and more.
The most well-known and widely researched animal sources of omega 3 fatty acids are cold water fish. Fish high in omega 3 include anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines, which are all especially rich in DHA and EPA.
Environmental Toxins in Fish. Unfortunately, you can't always be sure that the fish you buy is truly safe to eat. Due to environmental pollution, most fish today are contaminated with dangerous toxins like mercury, dioxins and PCBs. While there is evidence that the high selenium content in fish protects you from the health hazards of mercury, the same can't be said for other contaminants.
When at all possible, stick to wild-caught varieties. Although they are more expensive than farm-raised varieties, wild-caught fish typically contain significantly more omega 3 fatty acids and are much lower in toxicity. Smaller fish also are lower in toxic environmental contaminants, since they are lower down the food chain.
The best omega 3 foods include:
Foods with omega 6 fats include:
One should be careful about purchasing vegetable oils, however. Almost all of the corn, canola, sunflower, safflower, peanut and soybean oils in your supermarket have been bleached and deodorized. They're stored at room temperature, in clear containers with no expiration date. This means that the omega 6 fats in these products may well be of poor quality.
Beef also contains some omega 3 fats, although meat from grain-fed cows contains significantly less than meat from grass-fed cows. The same hold true for eggs as well; eggs laid by chickens who eat grass and insects contain more omega 3's than those raised on grain-based diets.
Almost all commercially-available beef and eggs come from animals on a grain-based diet; grass-fed beef and true free-range eggs are only available from specialty stores or directly from the farmer, and cost significantly more than store-bought varieties.
Vegetarian omega 3 sources include many seeds and nuts which are rich in the omega 3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These include chia, flaxseed and hemp seeds. Flaxseed oil, hemp oil and walnut oil are some vegetable oils which are also good sources of omega 3.
However, because your body has to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, you may not get all the benefits you would get by consuming these omega 3 fatty acids directly from animal sources or by taking omega 3 supplements instead.
Supermarkets are now carrying a wide range of products that tout their added omega 3 content as a health benefit. Everything from mayonnaise to cereal to eggs can be found with omega 3 added in. But are these products really better for your health?
The truth is that adding omega 3 to food products is more of a marketing ploy than a health benefit. The type of omega 3 typically added to food products is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA. As noted above, your body has to convert the ALA into EPA and DHA, and it's capacity to do this is limited. Combined with the fact that the amount of ALA added to processed foods is relatively small, you certainly can't expect to get the same benefits as you would from a serving of salmon or other food naturally rich in omega 3, or from an omega 3 supplement.
One of the ways to optimize your omega 3 intake is by following a Mediterranean diet. Generous amounts of richly-colored fruits and vegetables, virgin olive oil and fresh fish can help your body acquire a healthier balance of omega fats.
More pages on this website about omega 3:
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