Understanding Omega-3 Sources and Their Benefits in the Body

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Omega-3 is an essential nutrient that our body needs to function, but is not able to create on its own. Whether you take fish oil supplements or incorporate omega-3 foods in your nutrition plan, it is vital to understand how your body processes different form of omega-3 and how to choose the best sources.

Health Benefits
With more than 18,000 research studies, research has shown that significant health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet include:

  • Brain, heart and eye health support
  • Reduces sudden death risk
  • Supports overall general health
  • Acts as a great inflammation fighter
  • Critically important for maternal health and infant development.

Omega-3 Sources
Omega-3 comes in multiple forms and sources. The three primary types of omega-3’s are:

  1. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) – ALA is the precursor to EPA and DHA and naturally occurs in plant-based foods, such as flax and chia seeds, walnuts, leafy greens and soybeans.
  2. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – EPA is found in fish and seafood.
  3. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – DHA can be found in algae, fish and seafood.

When ALA is consumed, it undergoes metabolic changes to function in the body as EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, the conversion of ALA to EPA is very low, and the conversion of ALA to DHA is almost nonexistent. This conversion is influenced by several factors including genetic influences, gender, health conditions and dietary.

Unfortunately, many consumers don’t understand the different sources of omega-3 and what your body actually needs. For instance, many plant-based products like walnuts, flaxseeds or dark leafy green advertise that they are a good source of omega-3. Although these ALA rich foods are great sources of nutrients like protein, fiber, lignin, phytonutrients and antioxidants, consumers can still be left with an omega-3 deficiency due to the ALA conversion rate.

For example, one Tablespoon of ground flaxseed provides 1,500 milligrams (mg) of ALA. Since the conversion of ALA to EPA is approximately five to 15 percent, the 1,500 mg of ALA converts to somewhere between 75 and 225 mg of EPA. Compare this to three ounces of a Chinook salmon which contains 1,476 mg EPA and DHA combined!

This shows you that superior sources of omega-3 are EPA and DHA. Research indicates that EPA and DHA combined and working together provide the most substantial health benefits.

Are You Getting Enough Omega-3?
Cooper Clinic recommends 1,000 mg (1 gram) of omega-3 from EPA and DHA per day. For individuals with high triglycerides, two to four grams may be recommended. Always consult with your physician to discuss your supplementation needs. If you want to avoid eating fish, try incorporating fish oil supplements with at least 1,000 mg EPA and DHA into your daily routine.

The American Heart Association recommends you eat at least two servings of fatty fish a week. A serving is 3.5 ounces of cooked fish. Excellent sources of EPA and DHA are cold water fish such as salmon, anchovies, blue finned tuna, sardines, trout, sea bass, halibut and barramundi.

For more information about Cooper Complete Nutritional Supplements or to learn more about omega-3 supplements, click here or call 972.560.2707.

Article provided by Susie Kania, MS, Exercise Physiologist, Cooper Wellness and Kathy Duran-Thal, RD, Director of Nutrition, Cooper Wellness.

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