The list of health benefits for omega-3’s is long. A few key types of fatty acids have shown to improve heart and brain health. However, it is EPA and DHA in particular, that have shown more significant results in this department.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are three key ones you should get yourself familiar with: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is classified as an essential fatty acid because your body can’t produce it – you must consume it. Your body can convert ALA into EPA, but you can only then convert between one to nine per cent of this into DHA.
In the levels that are effective for health improvements, DHA may as well be an essential fatty acid.
Increased EPA and DHA levels have proven to lower triglyceride levels (the amount of stored fat in your blood and fat cells). They also improve blood sugar management and insulin response. Lower triglyceride levels usually correlate with improved cardiovascular health and a reduced chance of heart disease.
The brain is where it’s very effective though. Studies have shown increased Omega-3 consumption can reduce stress and anxiety levels. This is beneficial for those suffering from depression, working in a high-pressure environment, or training very hard. It has also been shown in some instances to improve cognition and memory. All this correlates to studies that find Omega-3 improves sleep and helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lastly, is the reported reduction in inflammation. This is beneficial to those training to a high level and very important for those suffering from arthritis.
If you’re looking for a case of high Omega-3 consumption, you need to look at the Japanese. Before the western diet polluted their habits with fast-food joints popping up on every corner, the Japanese ate white rice with every meal. Yet, they showed extremely low obesity rates, high life expectancy and low recorded cases of dementia. What was a key part of their diet? Fatty fish.
Put simply, ALA is found mainly in plant oils, whereas DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood.
The most abundant sources of ALA can be found in the following:
• Flaxseed oil: One teaspoon contains a whopping 2,400mg ALA
• Ground flaxseed: One teaspoon provides 1,200mg
• Chia seeds: One teaspoon contains 1,800mg
• Walnuts: Seven halves provide you with 1,280mg.
• Walnut oil and hemp seed oil are other less effective options.
If you’re looking at those numbers wondering how they’re relevant, women need 1,100mg of ALA each day while men need 1,600mg.
When it comes to EPA and DHA, it’s harder to measure because, like humans, fish don’t produce it. Fish consume it in the algae they eat, so the levels found in fish and fish oils depend on the quality of the fish and the quantity they’ve had access to.
With daily recommendations for DHA at 500mg and a standard serving of salmon containing over 4,000mg though, you needn’t consume very much to hit the required levels.
There’s probably enough in the ikan bilis many Malaysians consume daily, with it only requiring 25g of anchovies to hit 500mg of EPA and DHA.
This is all great, but what if you’re vegetarian? Well, if you recall, the fish themselves have to eat their DHA in algae, so why not go straight to the source?