Omega-3 supports major organs in the body, helping them to function normally, such as the heart, brain and eyes - 5 min read.
The UK government recommends we should aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week (140g); one of these should be oily to increase our intake of omega-3 nutrients. So, if you are looking to keep your whole body healthy ; omega-3 is definitely something to clue yourself up on.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acid is a type of unsaturated fatty acid found in both animals and plants, which help to support the function of major organs in the body. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids make up an essential part of a healthy diet and can be found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. From plants, the primary sources are flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
EPA and DHA
There are two important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids which are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which both play a significant role in maintaining whole body health.
The two omega-3 fatty acids considered most crucial come from marine animals such as fish. EPA and DHA are known for various health benefits and particularly for their contribution to normal heart function. Flaxseed, chia, hemp, and a few other foods, on the other hand, offer another type of polyunsaturated fatty acid,alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats
So, what is the real difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, and is one better for your health than the other? The difference comes down to simple structure. That is, the number of double bonds in the fatty acid chain. Saturated fatty acids lack double bonds between the individual carbon atoms, while in unsaturated fatty acids there is at least one double bond in the fatty acid chain.
Another difference is that saturated fats are solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid. Unsaturated fats can further be categorised as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats contain only one double bond in its structure, while polyunsaturated fats contain two or more double bonds in their structure.
Many governments and scientific bodies currently recommend monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats over saturated fats – for example fish, nuts, plant oils, avocados, and seafood, however the latter does contain a lesser amount of omega-3.
Foods high in saturated fat should be limited. They can be found in full fat dairy products and meats (as well as many processed foods like cakes and biscuits).
While it is not practical to eliminate saturated fat in your diet entirely, as it is present (in insignificant amounts) in many foods, replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet is recommended.
According to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey the proportion of adults meeting the 5-A-Day recommendation was 32% of those aged 19 to 64 years and 26% of those aged 65 years and over. Most of us do not eat the recommended 30g of fibre a day and oily fish consumption is below the recommended 140g per week1 .
How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Help Maintain Your Health
We are inundated with information telling us how important it is to consume healthy fats such as omega-3, either in your diet or in supplement form. Here we will break down exactly what it is about omega-3 fatty acids that are so beneficial.
Why Do We Need Omega-3?
These essential fatty acids deliver whole body health benefits – Omega-3 in DHA form contributes to the maintenance of normal vision and brain function, while DHA and EPA combined can contribute to the normal function of the heart. The beneficial effects for heart function are obtained with an intake of 250 mg EPA and DHA per day. For brain function, 250 mg DHA per day is needed. Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial for general eye health as they provide structural support to cell membranes2.
How Do I Ensure I am Getting Enough Omega-3?
The main sources of omega-3 are found in oily fish, such as:
Public Health England guidelines suggest eating two portions of fish per week3 (1 portion=140g), one of which should be oily. Omega-3 can also be found in other foods, such as:
So even if you are not the world’s biggest fish fan you can opt for an alternative, or consider a supplement to maintain whole body health - such as Seven Seas Omega-3 & Immunity which is rich in omega-3, providing significant amounts of Omega-3 to obtain the listed health benefits. This product also contains vitamin D, please refer to (provide link) for why vitamin D has so many body benefits.
It is important to note that while oily fish is beneficial it is equally important not to exceed four portions per week (falling to two portions for pregnant and breastfeeding women, girls and women who are planning a pregnancy or may have a child one day) as set out by Public Health England, due to concerns over levels of pollutants4.
The Difference Between Omega-3 And Omega-6
There is no denying the health benefits of Omegas. However, it is important to understand which Omega is right for you and why you need it. For instance, do you need more Omega-3 or should you be supplementing with Omega-6? Omega-3 and omega-6 are both types of polyunsaturated fats. They are essential to our health as they cannot be made from scratch by the body.
Where Can I Find Omega-6 Fats?
Omega-6 can be found in vegetable oils such as rapeseed, corn, sunflower, and some nuts. As a result, they can be found in many processed foods like pastries and cakes, biscuits, crisps, snacks, takeaways, ready meals, bread, margarine, and cereal.
1 Public Health England. National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Results from Years 7 and 8 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2014/2015 to 2015/2016). 2018.
2 Moorfields.nhs.uk. 2017. Ten Steps To Healthy Eyes | Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. [online] Available at: https://www.moorfields.nhs.uk/content/ten-steps-healthy-eyes [Accessed 10 November 2020].
3 Public Health England. The Eatwell Guide. 2018.
4 nhs.uk. 2018. Fish And Shellfish. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/fish-shellfish.aspx [Accessed 10 November 2020].
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