Have you ever wondered if it made a difference if you took an Omega 3 supplement or just ate fish everyday? The answer is yes, depending on where the Omega 3’s come from because not all are equally available to the body. If you look at the label of your Omega 3 supplement, you may see the letters EPA and DHA which are the essential fatty acids found in fish and fish oil supplements. Both DHA and EPA are readily available to the body and play a major role in cell membrane function as well as your immune system plus they lower your risk of heart disease and reduce inflammation throughout your body.
You may have seen another Omega 3 fat called Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which actually comes from plant sources and occurs naturally in foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, soy, canola oil and wheat germ. The body cannot produce ALA on its own which is why it is considered an essential fatty acid. The body converts ALA to EPA and then to DHA, however, this conversion is not really that effecient. The Nurse’s Health Study found that women who took ALA had fewer sudden cardiac attacks than those who did not take it at all.
The latest nutrition trend is to add Omega 3’s to food that include EPA and DHA which you have probably seen in the grocery store on egg cartons. Each egg contains 100-150 mg. of Omega 3’s which is one way to add them to your diet. Other foods to watch for in the future containing Omega 3’s are peanut butter, pasta and fortified cereals.
So with all the confusion about Omega 3’s- how much should you take? The American Heart Association recommends a good quality Omega 3 (fish oil) supplement of 1,000 mg. daily that have EPA and DHA written on the label. Even if you do not have heart disease, I recommend taking 1,000 mg. daily to prevent heart disease, reduce inflammation throughout your body and help you stay pain-free. The fortified foods will help but they do not contain enough to make up for a diet low in Omega 3’s so make sure you have a good quality supplement.
If you like fish, eat fatty fish like wild salmon, light tuna and sardines at least twice a week. Plus you can enjoy foods that contain ALA like ground flaxseeds by adding them to your oatmeal in the morning or sprinkle them on your dinner salad. Other foods that contain ALA are soy, walnuts and canola oil.
Remember the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz movie when Dorothy squirted his joints with oil and he was able to move freely again? Well, that is what Omega 3’s (fish oil) does in your body. It keeps your joints lubricated, reduces inflammation and helps prevent heart disease. What more could you ask for in a supplement? Have you had your Omega 3’s today?
Sherry L. Granader, ACE, AFAA, NETA, ACSM, BBU