What are Omega-3s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that offer a wide variety of health benefits. Since the body doesn’t produce Omega-3s on its own, they are classified as “essential fatty acids.”
What foods are they found?
The three main Omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is primarily found in plant foods (particularly canola oil, soybean oil and flax seed oil). EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish (particularly salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna). Algae oils are vegetarian sources of DHA/EPA. Note that Omega-3s are NOT the same as fish liver oils. Fish liver oils contain Vitamin A and D as well as Omega-3s; however Vitamin A and D can be toxic in high doses.
Why is the distinction between ALA and EPA/DHA so important?
It’s important to note that ALA is only a building block or precursor to EPA/DHA, the biologically active forms of Omega-3s. The majority of the health benefits we hear about Omega-3s in the news are referring to EPA and DHA. Why does this matter? Because the body’s process of converting ALA to EPA/DHA is very inefficient. For example, every 1000 milligrams of ALA that you consume will only make about 27 milligrams of EPA/DHA. This is important for people taking Omega-3 supplements that are primarily made up of ALA or vegans who are consuming mostly plant based forms of Omega-3s.
How much EPA/DHA we need?
For healthy individuals, The World Health Organization recommends consuming 300-500 milligrams of EPA/DHA daily. This can be obtained by eating 2-3 servings of fish per week (6-ounces of cooked salmon provides 1800 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined). For those who don’t eat fish that frequently, consider Omega-3 supplements to obtain your daily recommended intake of this essential nutrient. Vegan EPA/DHA can be obtained by consuming algae-based supplements. V-pure, for example, is a vegan based supplement that contains both EPA and DHA. For those interested in consuming Omega-3s for therapeutic reasons, The National Institute of Health provides a list of recommended doses studied in scientific research for different health concerns (scroll to bottom of link).
Are supplements safe?
What should I look for when purchasing supplements?
As mentioned previously, make sure your supplements provide at least 300 milligrams of EPA/DHA. Also, only buy fish oil supplements that have gone through molecular distillation to ensure they are pure and free of contaminants. A good quality fish oil supplement will usually cost around $20.00 for a month’s supply.