What is Omega 3?
Omega 3 is one in a group of Essential Fatty Acid’s (EFA’s) which also includes Omega 6. They are essential, as the group to which they belong implies, in providing energy for our bodies, as do all fats but differ in that they posses a myriad of potential health benefits too. Omega 3 benefits are well recognised by top athletes and sports people, such as David Beckham but omega 3 supplements are avialble and affordable to all, so lets get educated about what can omega 3 do for our brain, body and geneal health.
Nutritionists, Doctors and Advertisers will all talk about “Good” fats and “Bad” fats and to best understand omega 3 benefits a simple understanding of how it differs from other types of fat would be useful.
There are basically 3 types of fat:
- Saturated fat – animal fat including full fat milk, cheese and other dairy products
- Monounsaturated fat – such as olive oil
- Polyunsaturated fat– vegetable oil (eg. sunflower oil), fish oil (eg. Cod Liver oil, Salmon Oil) which include Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s).
Omega 3 is a Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA) and can be in the form of either a long-chain fatty acid or short-chain fatty acid. For the purpose of our understanding we need only be concerned with size because in this case, size does matter and bigger is better!… as will become apparent later.
The best omega 3 is a long chain polyunsaturated EFA of which, there are two types; marine sourced EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). It is these two long chain EPA DHA Omega 3 fatty acids which provide the unique health benefits associated with a “good fat”. The shorter chain fatty acid ALA (Alpha-linolenic Acid), sometimes referred to as the vegetarian omega-3 due to its plant based source, also has beneficial properties but is less efficient in that the body has to first convert it to a long chain fatty acid.
Where does Omega 3 Oil come from?
The body does not produce its own supply of omega-3 and is therefore, dependent on external sources namely, marine based EPA and DHA omega fish oil and plant extracted ALA; much in the same way as it is dependent on external sources of Vitamin E.
Fish oils are currently the best source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids with the best fish oil containing approximately 18% EPA and 12% DHA.
Plant oils are another common source of omega-3 but these are of the short chain fatty acids type and first need to be converted by our bodies into the longer chain Omega EPA and Omega DHA, which is not a very efficient process and hence, the reason why long chain fatty acid sources are best.
Flaxseed Oil (aka: Flax Oil) is a favourite amongst vegetarians due to its plant based oilseed source and provides both a preferred choice and a vegan alternative to fish omega. Other sources of plant and seed oil include but are not limited to; Walnut Oil, Hulled Hemp Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Canola Oil and Soybean Oil.
In a new development and one which may go some way in addressing some of the industries concern over depleting omega 3 fish stocks, which is itself a heavily debated topic, one manufacturer intends to produce soybean oil from genetically modified (GM) plants. Soybean oil is a short chain ALA fatty acid which needs to be converted into an intermediate, Stearidonic Acid (SDA) before it can be converted into the desired longer chain EPA. By genetically modifying the plant it is intended to bypass the conversion of ALA to SDA by having the plant perform this task itself, which is significantly more efficient than the body having to do it. Once ingested the SDA soybean oil can be converted into a more pure EPA by the body in comparison to standard soybean oil.
Similarly, a concentrated source of DHA can be produced from Algae in the form of Algal Oils. The EPA DHA oil extracted from both soybean and algae are suitable for vegetarians.
How much omega 3 should I take?
Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, trout, herring and salmon are the richest source of omega 3 fatty acids giving the best fish oil benefits.
The UK Foods Standards Agency (FSA), an independent government agency set up to protect public health and consumer interests relating to food, recommends a fish oil dosage equivalent to 2-4 portions (140g per portion) of oily fish per week, dependent on age and sex.
However, there is no definitive Omega 3 RDA / RDI (Recommended Daily Allowance / Recommended Daily Intake) stipulated by Government Agencies or Regulatory Bodies for daily consumption of Omega EPA, Omega DHA or Omega ALA. Opinion varies across the Atlantic between Europe and The United States with Europe generally being much more conservative in its “un-official recommendations” and this is despite the universally recognised benefits of omega 3’s. This can be confusing for the consumer as much as it is frustrating for the manufacturers. What is generally recognised, is that there is a balance to be achieved between the levels of EPA Omega-3 and DHA Omega-3 in the diet, the extent of which is not independent of the person in question; male/female, young/old, pregnant etc… It may be for this reason that there is a reluctance to specify definitive RDA’s/RDI’s.
Just as there is a recognised balance between EPA and DHA in Omega 3 foods there is also a balance to be achieved between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in the diet of approximately 1:2 to 1:4 (Omega 3 6). Omega 6 is more abundant in our diets and most of us will need to increase our intake of Omega 3 in the form of Omega 3 fish, whilst considering a possible reduction in our Omega 6 intake. This balance is essential for our well being as research has shown that exaggerated amounts of Omega 6 oil in our diet can be detrimental to our health rather than beneficial. To this end an, Omega 3 supplement (sometimes incorrectly referred to as Omega 3 Vitamins) maybe required.
Omega 3 can also be found in many of our “every day” products both naturally such as oily fish, broccoli and cabbage, polyunsaturated margarine’s and as food and dietary supplements included with baby milk, cereals and yogurts, to name but a few. The market is awash with omega 3 pills, omega 3 kids stuffs, fish supplements and other omega supplements in food and beverages, some higher in EPA oil or DHA oil depending on their target market; so why not have a look in your fridge and kitchen cupboards to see what food products you can find containing polyunsaturated fatty acids and which of these contain omega 3’s and omega 6’s (both long and short chain). This is great educational fun for all the family especially if played as a game and increases awareness of the products we consume in our daily diet.
Omega 3 Health benefits – What Does Omega 3 Fish Oil Do?
Omega 3 long chain fatty acids (high in EPA and DHA) from fish oil are acknowledge by the scientific community to be associated with brain, heart, eye and joint health with anti-inflammatory properties.
Health benefits Falxseed / Fish oil benefit are in providing a way of cleansing the arteries of “plaque” created from the cholesterol produced from eating too much fatty food (high in saturated fats). The EPA and DHA in oily fish derived fish oil will actually dissolve the plaque build-up, thus reducing the inflammation of the arteries and the associated risk and occurrence of heart disease. This is much the same action and effect of pouring a proprietary agent down the plug hole of your kitchen sink to dissolve the accumulated debris from foodstuffs, especially food fats, in the “u-bend” and clinging to the walls of the waste pipe.
Health benefits are reported to include but are not limited to the following:
Reducing risk of heart disease
Lower blood pressure
Improve circulation through improved arterial health
Improve the immune system
Lower risk of breast cancer
Lower risk of prostrate cancer
Reduce inflammation and associated inflammatory illnesses such as Asthma, arthritis, psoriasis and eczema
Improved learning ability, especially in children
….the list goes on. However, not all of these claims have been validated and research continues into these and new areas of possible benefits.
This article started by asking whether Omega 3’s could change our lives for the better and the simple answer is “Yes” but just as with everything else in life, a balance needs to be achieved if it’s to be of any benefit. This may be realised in the balance of polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diet, the balance of omega 3’s with omega 6’s, the balance of EPA-DHA-ALA…..balance would appear to be the key in realising the plethora of potential health benefits afforded by these essential fatty acids.
As individuals, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our children to become more aware of the foods we eat and how they impact our lives in order that we can make the best informed decisions about our daily diet and our health. Healthy eating balanced with a healthier lifestyle is yours and your family’s insurance policy for a healthier future.
DISCLAIMER: The information and advice contained in this article are intended as a general guide to healthy eating and are not specific to individuals or their particular circumstances. All content within this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Omegaoil3.com is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the omegaoil3 website. Omegaoil3 is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed. Always consult your own GP if you’re in any way concerned about your health.