Diet and supplement fads come and go. But one compound that is recently much in the news is very likely to stay for the long haul: omega-3 fatty acids. The reasons are that ample research shows that these are essential to a wide range of functions, and also help reduce the odds and severity of an equally wide range of problems.
But, unlike cholesterol, the body doesn’t manufacture its own. It has to be gained from the diet.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
There are actually three main types, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The first is consumed in food, which is then broken down into the latter two. It’s the EPA and DHA that is so beneficial for so many functions.
Why Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Important?
Numerous reliable studies show that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD), arthritis and certain cancers. Developing fetuses who lack the needed amounts have been shown to be at increased risk for vision and nerve system problems. Omega-3 fatty acids are passed from mother to fetus during gestation.
Many studies strongly suggest they play a vital role in proper cognitive function (memory and thinking). Evidence of their lack shows up in poor memory, mood swings, excess fatigue and other problems.
On the positive side, those who do get appropriate amounts have improved blood sugar levels, better cholesterol levels and more. People who adopt a diet rich in omega-3 tend to have higher HDL levels (the good cholesterol). They tend also to have lower triglyceride levels, the most common form of fat in the body.
How To Get Them From Diet?
They’re actually very easy to get in the proper amounts. The American Heart Association and other official organizations recommend 2 servings of fish per week. Many different species can fulfill the need: mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, halibut and others. Other marine life also contain this essential substance, including krill (a crustacean similar to shrimp).
The benefits of omega-3 are one major reason for the popularity of such diets as the Mediterranean Diet. It typically includes lower quantities of high-fat red meat and more omega-3-rich fish. It also supplies omega-3 in the form of whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, garlic and other foods native to that region. Kiwifruit, for example, contains omega-3 fatty acids, as do lingonberries, walnuts and pecans, and flax (linseed).
Risks and Warnings
Like most things, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing. Some types of stroke have been associated with consuming more than 3 grams of omega-3 per day in supplement form. Also, like any dietary recommendation, how much is good will vary with individual circumstances. Like any aspect of diet, when beginning something new it’s always wise to consult your physician for guidance first.