We all know that a balanced diet is necessary to maintain optimal mental and physical health. When we think about what to eat, we often think of the bigger things like carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. But beyond those macronutrients, there are many other, less obvious nutrients that we need to make sure we are getting enough of, and omega-3 is a good example.

When we think of omega-3, many of us are sure to conjure up images of fish oil and unpleasant-tasting food supplements. But there is a lot more to omega-3 than we realize, and it is important that we set the record on this essential acid.

Because this is so important, we asked nutritionist Sejal Jacob to explain exactly what it does, why we need it, and where we can get it from. This is all you need to know.

What is omega-3?

Omega-3 fatty acids consist of the long-chain fatty acids ALA, EPA and DHA. “It is unsaturated fats that are very important for our health and body functions,” explains Sejal.

What Are The Benefits Of Omega 3?

“The main reason they are seen as beneficial to us is in our hearts,” explains Sejal. “Studies have shown that constant intake can reduce cardiovascular disease by at least 10%.”

Omega-3 is also beneficial for brain and eye health. In fact, DHA makes up 40% of the polyunsaturated fats in our brains and 60% of the polyunsaturated fats in our retinas, which means they are an essential part of organ functions.

It is also believed that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in the body, and therefore the risk of disease.

Salmon and omega-3Oily fish is one of the best sources of omega-3s

What Are the Best Sources of Omega 3?

The best source of omega-3 is oily fish, but there are also vegetarian and vegan sources. Some of the best foods for omega-3 are:

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • linseed
  • Edamame beans
  • tofu

There are no guidelines on how much omega-3s we should have, but current NHS guidelines state that we should eat two servings of fish a week, including one serving of oily fish (around 140g). It is difficult to compare fish directly to vegetarian sources, as vegetarian sources tend to have higher levels of acidic ALA, while fish often have higher levels of EPA and DHA components of omega-3.

Who Must Take Omega-3?

“As a population, we don’t eat as much omega-3s as we could, but the average person who eats a well-balanced diet shouldn’t be concerned about their intake,” says Sejal.

There is some research to suggest that pregnant women should take care to get enough DHA for children’s brain development, and a study published in the American Heart Association found that those at risk of heart disease could benefit from it to add more omega-3s to their diets.

“Any healthy adult or child should meet their needs through diet rather than taking supplements,” says Sejal. “Dietary supplements are only recommended on the very rare occasions when people really have difficulty meeting their nutritional needs.”

There are no real signs that you need more omega-3s in your diet, explains Sejal. However, because omega-3 is so important to eye health, some people with low fatty acid levels can experience consistently dry eyes. It can show up as dry skin and hair as well.

If you are concerned about not getting enough omega-3s in your diet, or if you think you may be at risk for low levels, it is best to speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian.

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Images: Getty, Unsplash

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