Do you know if you are getting enough omega 3? It is recommended that we eat two portions of fish per week, one of which oily (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout), but in the UK most people don’t eat enough oily fish. So are we getting enough omega 3 and what are good omega 3 sources?
Getting enough omega 3 is becoming more and more important as we discover the wide-ranging potential health benefits of this particular fatty acid.
It has long been known that omega 3 fatty acids can help to prevent heart disease, but they also have a role to play in brain function, joint suppleness, eyesight and cancer prevention, amongst others.
To get the maximum health benefits it is recommended that we consume 450mg long-chain omega 3 per day (or 3g per week). The long-chain omega 3 fatty acids include EPA and DHA, which are mostly found in fish oils. Translating this into practice we should be eating one portion of oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, trout, pilchards) per week to get our recommended amount of long-chain omega 3.
Other omega 3 sources?
We know that by far the best source of omega 3 is oily fish, but what if you just don’t like fish, or you are vegetarian or have a fish allergy? The evidence for the health benefits of omega 3 is growing by the day so you really don’t want to miss out on this nutrient, but don’t worry, there are other sources.
- Omega 3 eggs – produced by chickens fed on flax, can help to boost your intake but unless you eat several each day (not recommended!) you are going to need to find additional omega 3 sources.
- Flaxseed (or linseed)– An excellent source of alpha linolenic acid, which is then converted in the body to the long-chain omega 3 fatty acids. Hempseed and rapeseed (canola) oil are also reasonable sources. The vegetarian society recommend a teaspoon of flaxseed oil or 4-5 teaspoon ground flaxseed or rapeseed oil daily but don’t heat the oil / seed as this can alter the omega 3 fatty acids.
- Walnuts– Although not as good a source as flax, walnuts are by far the best nut source of alpha linolenic acid omega 3
- Algae – Fish don’t naturally produce omega 3, they obtain it from the algae and plankton that they live on. Certain types of algae, including kelp, are excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids and the only source of the long-chain omega 3 that is suitable for vegans.
Should I take a supplement?
It is best to get your nutrition from food, but if you don’t eat fish or significant amounts of the alternatives listed above then it might be worth looking for an omega 3 supplement. If this is you then here are a few tips:
- Look for a supplement containing the long-chain EPA and DHA rather than the alpha-linolenic acid that the body then has to convert.
- For heart health you want to be looking for around 450-500mg EPA/DHA per day but some experts recommend that for optimal brain health you should consume around 1000mg
- Avoid supplements with added omega 6 and omega 9. These fatty acids are found in a wide range of foods so you shouldn’t need extra and upping the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 in the diet is particularly beneficial so adding more omega 6 won’t help with this
- Cod liver oil is not the same. It is a good source of vitamin D but can also provide alot of vitamin A (too much of which can be toxic) and is more likely to be contaminated than the purer fish oil supplements
- If you are vegan/vegetarian or cannot eat fish for other reasons you can get short-chain omega 3 from flaxseed but for the long-chain EPA/DHA you would need to find a supplement derived from algae rather than fish oil (e.g. V-Pure or Deva)
- Consult your doctor first if you are taking regular blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin, aspirin or clopidogrel
So that’s the low down on the benefits of Omega 3 and finding the best Omega 3 sources even when suffering from food intolerance’s.