For decades, health professionals have agreed that consuming plenty of omega-3s, or “essential fatty acids,” are crucial for optimal health. It may not seem that “fatty acids” have anything to do with wellness, but Omega-3s are in fact healthy polyunsaturated fats. Basically, they are essential fats that our body requires to survive but does not produce on its own.
What are omega-3 fatty acids… and how can I up my omega-3 intake?
There are three specific types: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha – linolenic acid). DHA and EPA are found primarily in animal foods and algae, while ALA is found mostly in plants.
Omega-3 is a great addition to your weekly meal plan. Fish, or fish oil supplements, is one of the most popular sources, but there are options to help incorporate variety into your diet such as:
1. Fatty Fish such as Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, and Herring
3. Flax & Chia Seeds
4. Pasture-Raised Eggs
5. Grass-Fed Beef
7. Red Lentils
8. Navy Beans
9. Organic Tofu
10. Wild Rice
Omega-3s are one of the nutrients with the most information collected to better serve the medical community and have been shown to help prevent conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and depression.
Omega-3s have also been found to have other health benefits, including:
1. Promotes Heart Health. As the leading cause of death worldwide, heart disease affects millions of people. In addition to reducing inflammation, omega-3s have been shown to reduce triglycerides and increase levels of HDL (aka “good”) cholesterol in the blood.
2. Preserves Brain Function. Studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids help promote brain health and thus slow cognitive decline, dementia, and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Supports Bones & Joints. By increasing calcium absorption, omega-3s help decrease the amount of bone loss, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. As they help decrease inflammation, omega-3s have also shown to prove helpful in conditions like arthritis and other issues leading to joint pain and stiffness.
4. Decreases Inflammation. Unfortunately, inflammation is at the root cause of almost every major disease. Research studies have shown that omega-3 helps reduce inflammation by decreasing substances like C-reactive protein and interleukin 6.
5. Improves Mood. Several studies have demonstrated that consuming a diet rich in omega-3s can help boost our mood, while decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
6. Enhances Eye Health. Omega-3, specifically DHA plays a crucial role in the structure of the eye, particularly the retina. DHA has been shown to keep the structure of the eye healthy and decrease intraocular pressure. Both of which can help prevent diseases like macular degeneration and glaucoma, which can both lead to vision impairment or possible blindness if untreated.
The bottom line? Omega-3 fatty acids are the good fats our bodies need for optimal health. Consuming foods high in omega-3s several days a week is a great way to ensure you get plenty of this vital nutrient.
Meghan Punda, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner and functional nutritionist with a focus on women’s health. With a passion for identifying and treating the root cause of health issues, Meghan works one-on-one with her clients to develop personalized dietary and wellness plans to fit each patient’s lifestyle and ultimately reach their full wellness potential.
What To Know About Essential Fatty Acids by Caitlin Geng, reviewed by Jeryln Jones, MS, MPA, RDN, LD, CLT. January 30, 2022, MedicalNewsToday.com.
17 Science-Based Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids by Freydis Hjalmarsdottir, MS. October 15, 2018, Healthline.com.
12 Omega-3 Foods That Are Great For Your Heart featured in VeryHealthy.Life,
January 7, 2019.