Are you getting enough omega-3s?

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We now know fat is an essential component of a healthy diet and no longer need to be scared to include them on our plate, but do you know how much of particular fats you need? 

Omega 3’s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids that the body cannot make, so must be provided by food sources.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

ALA reduces the inflammatory response, assists in blood clotting and plasma triglycerides. It is commonly found in fish and plant foods such as walnuts, flax seed and hemp oil. ALA is not very active in the body until it is converted into EPA or DHA. However, this process is quite inefficient, with only 0.5-5% being converted to EPA and between 1 and 10% converted to DHA. Therefore, consuming foods and/or dietary supplements is the only practical way to increase levels of these fatty acids in the body.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

EPA is present in fish and seafood and has many functions, its primary being that it signals eicosanoids, which are hormone like compounds made from essential fatty acids. EPA may be effective in mental health conditions, particularly depression.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Also found in fish and seafood, DHA serves as a structural component in cell walls, and is also required for the function of the retina. It is vital for normal development and maturation of the nervous system, so is an important fatty acid during pregnancy.

Similar to omega-3s, omega-6s are also essential polyunsaturated fatty acids required through diet. They are important in regulating blood pressure, however omega-6s can be converted into eicosanoids that are more pro-inflammatory. Our typical Western diet is much higher in omega-6s than omega-3s - the recommended ratio being 4:1, however ours is closer to 25:1! Most packaged and prepared food is higher in omega-6s, being present in foods such as beef, poultry, sunflower and corn oil. So clearly it is easy to consume enough omega-6s in our diet, but it’s important to maintain a healthy balance with omega-3s as well. 

To increase your omega-3 intake, include more foods like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, oysters, anchovies, grass-fed beef, flax seed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds or oil. Aim to include oily fish 3-4 times each week, or consider adding a high quality supplement to your diet.

Gina Horn

Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)
BEx&NutrSc, MDietSt

Bradford Clinic