This post is sponsored by Burnbrae Farms.
Omega 3 fatty acids have been promoted for their health and wellness benefits for people of all ages. Many people have heard about DHA for the developing infant, fish oil supplements for adult heart health, and/or omega 3’s for chronic disease prevention.
But what are omega-3’s and what do they do? Does everyone need omega 3 fatty acids? Let’s explore together!
What are omega 3’s and what do they do?
Omega 3’s are essential fatty acids (‘essential’ just means that our body cannot make them, so we need to get them from diet) that have many functions in our body. There are different kinds of omega-3’s, but most of the research focuses on these three:
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): an essential fatty acid - found in walnuts, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, soy, canola, and enriched eggs
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): our body can make EPA from ALA, but in limited amounts - found in fatty fish, seafood, algae, and a small amount in enriched eggs
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): our body can make DHA from ALA, but in limited amounts - found in fatty fish, seafood, algae, and enriched eggs
As you can see, our body is able to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but unfortunately this is not an efficient process. Therefore, ensuring you get adequate amounts of all three types of omega-3 fatty acids from diet and/or supplements is important.
Omega-3 fatty acids play important roles throughout our body and are found in particularly high amounts in the retina, brain, and sperm. Omega-3’s are a vital part of cell structure and signaling pathways, as well as a source of energy for the body. They have wide-ranging roles in heart, lung, and immune system function as well as hormonal function.
Benefits of Omega 3’s
Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and have been the subject of a lot of scientific research. Researchers have identified benefits for the following areas:
Eating patterns that include fatty fish rich in EPA and DHA have long been associated with a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease. There is ongoing research into the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular events (such as heart attack or stroke), blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation.
Did you know? Human breast milk contains omega-3 fatty acids, and the concentration of omega-3’s in breast milk can be influenced by diet! Higher intakes of omega-3’s during pregnancy and breastfeeding have been associated with better infant and child development.
Current research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may be useful at treating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis alongside other medications and/or reducing use of anti-inflammatory medications and corticosteroids.
There is some promising research suggesting that omega 3’s may reduce cancer risk, specifically breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. There is some research that people with higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet have a reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. Research is also ongoing for how omega-3 fatty acids may affect depression, inflammatory bowel disease, ADHD, childhood allergies, dry eye disease, and cystic fibrosis.
Overall, it is important to ensure adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids from whole foods in your diet (see below).
How to Incorporate Omega 3’s in your diet:
Canadian adults require a minimum of 1.1 g (women) and 1.6 g (men) ALA daily. Health Canada has not established recommended daily amounts for DHA, but years of clinical studies have indicated these levels may be sufficient for general health:
Children (ages 1-18): 100-150 mg DHA per day
Adults: 250-500 mg DHA per day
A 2014 report from Statistics Canada found that close to 40% of Canadians are not getting enough DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease! Ensuring you get adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from a variety of sources will help you reap all of their health benefits.
EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are found in krill, algae, and cold water fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel, sardines, Arctic Char, rainbow trout, and herring. Other fish, such as cod and tilapia, are great sources of protein but not as high in omega-3’s.
Another great source of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA) are omega-3 enriched eggs. Burnbrae Farms omega-3 eggs contain ALA and DHA, plus EPA in a small amount. Omega-3 enriched eggs are produced when hens are fed a special diet that’s rich in flax seeds, flax oil, and/or fish oil. Two Burnbrae Farms Naturegg Omega 3 eggs contain 180 mg DHA+EPA and two Burnbrae Farms Omega PLUS eggs contain 300 mg DHA+EPA.
Plant-based sources of omega-3’s include soy products, canola oil, walnuts, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, and algae. Other food products, such as yogurt, juice, milk, and soy beverages may also come fortified with omega-3 fatty acids.
Try these meal and snack ideas to increase your intake of omega-3’s:
Canned salmon + Burnbrae Farms omega-3 enriched eggs in a frittata or quiche
Snack on steamed edamame
Salmon salad sandwich
Stir ground flaxseed and chia seeds into your morning smoothie or oatmeal
Egg salad sandwich made with Burnbrae Farms omega-3 enriched eggs
Anchovies or sardines as pizza toppings
Change up your stir fry and use extra-firm tofu instead of meat
Crushing sardines into tomato paste for a delicious tomato-based pasta sauce
Snack on walnuts and fruit
Canned sardines with whole grain crackers
As always, we recommend a well-balanced diet with a variety of whole foods instead of focusing on one nutrient. While omega 3’s definitely have mega benefits, don’t forget about all the other equally important nutrients. If you have questions about specific nutrient concerns, discuss with your physician or book an appointment with Vancouver Dietitians!