Essentially Important: Are You Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

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October 2018

Essentially Important: Are You Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Imagine there was a nutrient that may boost your heart health, reduce your risk for depression, safeguard against certain types of cancer, protect your eyes, and improve symptoms related to rheumatoid arthritis. Surprise—there is!

Avocados, salmon, flaxseed, and oil

Scientists have linked these potential benefits—and more—with omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid. They’re known as essential fatty acids because your body can’t make them on its own so you need to get them from foods or supplements.

Some of the top food sources for omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fish

  • Flaxseeds

  • Walnuts

  • Vegetable oils such as canola or soybean oil

The science behind omegas’ mega benefits

There are many types of omega-3 fatty acids, but most research focuses on three. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is one that’s mainly found in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oil. The other two are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are mostly present in fish.

When you consume foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, your body breaks the fats down into compounds that form the structures of cell membranes, including those found in your eyes and brain. Omega-3 fatty acids also provide energy for your body and form special signaling molecules, called eicosanoids, that play roles in how your cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems function.

Are you getting enough?

According to the Institute of Medicine, men should aim for 1.6 grams and women should get 1.1 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day.

In order to ensure you’re consuming enough, the American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of cooked fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna each week.

Discuss with your doctor whether omega-3 supplements could be beneficial for you.

If you’re curious whether your omega-3 fatty acid blood levels are within an optimal range, ask your doctor about being tested.

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