What is Omega-3?
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – fats that support cardiovascular health, brain and eye function, and normal development at all life stages.
Three Omega-3s are considered nutritionally important to the human body: EPA, DHA and ALA. But of these only EPA and DHA (found together in fish) are in a form the body can use readily. Your body must convert ALA to EPA and DHA for use.
The low conversion rate of ALA to EPA/DHA – less than 1% – makes fish oil (EPA/DHA) a better choice than flax or other Omega-3 plant sources (ALA).
What are fatty acids (FAs)?
Fatty acids are organic molecules made of short (18) or long (20, 22) carbon chains with hydrogen and oxygen in their chemical structures. Fatty acids make up all fats. While some tend to think of all fats as bad, certain fatty acids are important to human health because they are used to build and maintain every cell within the body.
Beneficial fatty acids include:
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as Omega-3 EPA (20:5) and DHA (22:6) found in fish, Omega-3 ALA (18:3) found in flax, and Omega-6s found in grains.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MFAs), such as Omega-9, found in olive, canola, peanut and grape seed oils.
What are essential fatty acids (EFAs)?
Essential Fatty Acids are nutrients that your body needs but cannot create on its own. To get EFAs you have to eat them. EFAs include the Omega-3 and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
What is “good” fat?
“Good” fats are fats required by your body for maintaining good health. They include the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) Omega-3 and Omega-6, and the monounsaturated fatty acid (MFA) Omega-9.
What is “bad” fat?
“Bad” fats are fats that generally are harmful to your body. These include saturated fatty acids (SFAs) – animal fats such as dairy fat and lard – and trans fatty acids (TFAs), found in vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. At high levels, both saturated and trans fats have been found to increase disease risk.
How much Omega-3 should I get daily?
Check out the Omega-3 Recommended Intake Chart
Can I get too much Omega-3?
For the typical North American, this is very unlikely. The issue in westernized populations, is of increased health risk from too little Omega-3 intake, not too much. You would have to eat excessive amounts of foods with Omega-3 before it would be detrimental to your health. To promote optimal health, consume the amount of Omega-3 recommended by your doctor, registered dietitian/nutritionist or other qualified health professional, or follow the guidelines suggested by numerous national and international health organizations.
Is fish a better source of Omega-3 than fish oil supplements?
Quality supplements are a safe, concentrated source of Omega-3. While fish plays a role in a healthy diet, some fish species can contain undesirable levels of contamination such as mercury, and toxic chemicals like PCBs and dioxins. However, research has shown that limiting fish intake due to concerns about contaminants is more harmful than consuming at least two fatty fish meals per week. Choosing fatty fish low in contaminants (avoiding the larger, predatory fish such as swordfish, tuna, king mackerel, etc.) will help minimize intake of potential contaminants.
Fish oil in quality supplements goes through an extensive purification process to remove contaminants. Many fish oil supplements are sold in a concentrated form, which contain higher levels of EPA/DHA per capsule. This makes the use of supplements a convenient alternative to eating large quantities of fish.
Do I need to take EPA if I’m taking DHA?
Yes. Both DHA and EPA are required by your body, and work together to promote good health.
Do I need EPA and DHA if I’m already taking flax?
Yes. Flax and other plant-based Omega-3 sources contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which your body must convert to EPA and DHA to use – a highly inefficient process. Only fish oil provides both the EPA and DHA that your body uses directly for optimal health.
Can’t my body make EPA and DHA from ALA?
Yes – but not nearly enough for ALA (flax, hemp, chia) to be considered a viable EPA/DHA source. The conversion rate is less than 1%. So the best source for EPA and DHA – which are the body-ready Omega-3 forms – is fish oil.
Is it safe to take Omega-3 while I’m pregnant?
Yes. It is safe and recommended by health professionals. DHA is essential to the development of your baby’s brain and eyes. It’s important that your growing child gets plenty of DHA during fetal development and throughout the early years of life.
Research suggests that Omega-3 EPA/DHA during pregnancy also promotes good fetal health and a healthy pregnancy.
Is Omega-3 for adults only?
No. Omega-3 promotes good health throughout every life stage – from pregnancy, infancy and childhood to young adult and seniors.
Check out Omega-3 Life Stage Benefits
Is Omega-3 safe for children?
Yes. Numerous studies have shown that Omega-3 is safe for children and needed to support the development of healthy brains, eyes and nerves.
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