Omega-3 Fatty Acids: You may have heard of them. So what exactly are they, and what do they do for us? Omega-3 Fatty Acids are a type of fatty acid that is made in our bodies or received from foods that we eat. Omega 3 fatty acids are known/ have recently been found to:
- Reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Reduce the negative impact of Omega-6 fatty acids
- Decrease symptoms of hypertension, depression, ADHD, joint pain and other rheumatoid problems and skin problems
- Boost the immune system
- Help protect the brain against Alzheimer’s Disease
Omega 3 Fatty Acids can be found at the highest levels in:
- Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, and herring
- Tofu and other forms of soybeans
- Oils such as: flaxseed, canola, and walnut
There are three main types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. These include DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). DHA is most important and essential as it represents up to 97% of the omega-3’s in the brain. DHA is very prominent in the area that is responsible for complex thinking skills. It also represents up to 93% of omega-3’s needed in the eye and is necessary for optimal structure and function of the nerve cells found in the eyes. Due to its important role in infants, the original source of DHA, microalgae, is now being used as an additive in baby foods and infant formulas.
EPA is not found in the brain or the retina and is not considered a significant structural part of the body. It does, however, play an important role in heart health. EPA helps to reduce chronic inflammation by modifying immune responses. This omega-3 is found in fatty fish and can also be obtained when DHA is converted to EPA by the body.
ALA has no known benefits on the brain or the eye, but it is the energy source and building block for DHA and EPA. The amount of ALA used for EPA is 5-10% and the amount of ALA used for DHA is 5%. This omega-3 can be found in the food sources of flaxseeds, walnuts, and soy products.
Omega-3’s can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by reducing the risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death, decreasing triglyceride levels, lowering the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and slightly lowering blood pressure. Omega-6 fatty acid is found in corn, peanut, and sunflower oils as well as eggs, poultry, cereals, baked goods and margarines. Although it promotes healthy skin, lower cholesterol, and blood clotting by making the blood sticky, it has been shown to increase the risk of many diseases primarily by increasing inflammation. When omega-6 is not balanced with omega-3 it promotes too much clot formation leading to possible heart problems. The optimal ratio for omega-6 to omega-3 is 3:6.
Eating a diet high in certain types of omega-3 fatty acids is showing positive results in the slowing / prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies on mice have found that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA can slow the aggregation of two proteins associated with the “brain-clogging plaques and tangles” implicated in Alzheimer’s. Therefore, choosing a diet high in DHA omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of acquiring this disease
It is important to know how to incorporate omega-3s in the diet so that you can receive their benefits. Walnuts are one of the best sources of omega-3s. They can be bought pre-shelled from the store and eaten alone or added to trail mix. They can also be used as condiments by being added in salads, cereals, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, or entrees such as pasta salads or hot soups. Walnuts are high in calories, however, so be sure to buy them raw and unsalted and try to eat them as a substitute for less healthy fats. You can also obtain your omega-3’s by substituting grilled, baked, or broiled fish– especially tuna and salmon for chicken and cheese on a salad, adding broccoli or spinach to pasta dishes, and substituting soy milk for regular milk in your coffee. By adding these simple foods into the diet you can increase your omega-3 fatty acid intake and enjoy the benefits that they provide the body.
Information from: Facts about Flaxseed, www.eatright,org. All Omega-3’s Are Not Created Equal; Good Fat, Bad Fat: The Facts About Omega-3’s; Omega-3 Fatty Acid Slows Alzheimer’s; The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Walnuts; Fish Oils May Be Lifesavers, www.webmd.org. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, www.americanheart.org. Nutrition Education for August. Produced by Meals on Wheels, Inc., of Tarrant County by Sherry Simon, R.D./L.D.. For questions regarding nutrition education contact: Sherry Simon, R.D./L.D.. Director of Nutrition Services for Meals on Wheels, Inc. of Tarrant County at 817-336-0912.