Omega-3 sounds like a super-hero: strong, fortified with amazing powers. In reality, omega-3 is an essential fatty acid found in fish oil and flaxseed. Doesn't sound that super, does it? You'd be surprised. Omega-3 has been found to benefit a body from head to toe, inside and out. Whether we get it through our diet or we take it as a supplement, omega-3 is a powerhouse. The bad news is that most North Americans don't get nearly enough omega-3 in any form.
Fat is usually the foe, but we need certain fatty acids for balanced health. Omega-3 is called an essential fatty acid because the human body can't produce it on its own, but it's becoming clear how essential it is. Mounting research has found that omega-3 can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, help lower triglyceride levels, help treat the inflammatory symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and benefit the health of mom and the development of baby during pregnancy (pregnant women should speak to their doctor before taking any supplements).
Wait, wait... there's more. Increased levels of omega-3 have also been linked to improvements in the symptoms of ADHD, autism, and depression; however, more research is needed before omega-3 could be recommended as a treatment for these conditions. Wow!
Back when we were all more linked to the land and the sea, the average person's diet included plenty of omega-3 from sources such as fish. Nowadays, the average diet is higher in processed foods and refined cooking oils, which are both high in another fatty acid called omega-6. The typical Western diet has about 15 or 17 times as much omega-6 as omega-3. If there is too much omega-6 in your diet relative to the amount of omega-3, you may be at a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and inflammation. While omega-3 supplements can help, the best way to get the right amounts is through food sources.
Ways to get more omega-3 into your diet
- Eat two servings of fatty fish per week. Try sardines, mackerel, or the ever-popular salmon. If you choose salmon, go for wild rather than farmed.
- Add fresh choices to your pantry. Tofu, flax seeds, and nuts like walnuts all pack a good omega-3 punch. Loads of foods are fortified with omega-3 now, such as eggs and yogurt. Look for it on the label.
- If you choose to go with supplements, carefully follow the directions for dosage and storage. Check with your pharmacist before starting supplements if you have any medical conditions or are taking any medications.
Information on cholesterol levels
Study: Food beats supplements for providing nutrients