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Get more omega-3s in your diet with these foods

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Not all fats are created equal. Case in point: Omega-3 fatty acids, known as “healthy fats,” have many benefits for your health, from reducing the risk of heart disease to helping treat anxiety. The best part? They are found in many food sources, although you can also choose from over-the-counter omega-3 supplements.

But like any modern health food, omega-3 fatty acids are surrounded by hype. What benefits are supported by science, and are there any downsides to omega-3s or their supplements? We help you sort them below.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, are an essential part of the human diet. Unlike other fats that the body can manufacture (called nonessential fatty acids), omega-3s cannot be manufactured from scratch. They are vital to various body processes, such as making hormones for blood clotting, arterial constriction and relaxation, and genetic functions. In other words, we need omega-3, and we can only get it from food or supplements.

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There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA
  • Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA
  • Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA

Add omega 3 to your diet

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Different types of foods provide different omega-3 fatty acids. The first two types, EPA and DHA, are abundant in fish, which is why they are commonly called “marine omega-3s.” The third type, ALA, is common in a variety of food sources, including some oils, nuts, leafy greens, and some meats.

The best sources of omega 3 include:

  • salted fish
  • wild salmon
  • bluefin tuna
  • mackerel
  • sardines
  • anchovies
  • trout
  • striped bass
  • Walnuts
  • flaxseed oil
  • Meat of grass-fed animals
  • chia seeds
  • canola oil

Fish, by far, is the best source of omega-3s. If you’re a vegetarian or don’t eat seafood, you may need to work especially hard to get enough of these important fats in your diet. In this case, omega-3 supplementation may be beneficial, especially for EPA and DHA. Although your body naturally converts a small amount of ALA into DHA and EPA, it may be a good idea to make sure that you consume fish or supplements that contain these.

Scientifically Backed Benefits of Omega 3

Omega 3 capsules and diet

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Scientists note a variety of benefits that may be associated with omega-3 fatty acids. Some have more evidence than others, so we’ll look at the most notable benefits with some promising scientific backing.

Reduce the risk of heart disease

A wide range of studies have shown a link between heart health and omega-3 fatty acids. These fats appear to have a positive effect on various aspects of cardiovascular health. In particular, omega-3s have been linked to a more stable heart rhythm, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improved blood vessel function, and lower levels of inflammation.

Replacing saturated fats, such as red meat, butter, and full-fat dairy products, with unsaturated fats such as omega-3s, may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Fight anxiety and depression

Although more research is needed on the exact relationship between mental health and omega-3 intake, there appears to be strong evidence that these fats can help reduce depression and anxiety for many people. The EPA, in particular, has shown promising results as a treatment for mild to moderate depression.

Promote eye health

Omega-3s – EPA and DHA in particular – play a major role in building the cellular structure of our eyes. Not only do they help during the early stages of our development, but research suggests that eating these fats consistently and adequately can help prevent vision problems, such as macular degeneration later in life.

Promote brain development for prenatal and infant

Scientists are actively studying the general relationship between omega-3s and brain health, especially in the womb and during our early life. Some studies have shown that babies of mothers who take omega-3 supplements during pregnancy and breast-feeding may have better mental processing abilities than those who don’t. Additionally, studies have shown that mothers who take DHA supplements can improve breast milk nutrition for infants, leading to improved cognitive function and eyesight later in life.

slow cognitive decline

Because of the connection between omega-3s and general brain health, it’s perhaps not surprising that some research supports that these fats may slow cognitive decline as we age. This may be particularly promising for helping slow the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, although more research is still needed in this area.

Scientists are still studying these and many other benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, including their effect on ADHD, metabolic syndrome, and some autoimmune diseases.

Disadvantages of omega-3 supplements

In general, doctors recommend getting most or all of your omega-3 fatty acids from food sources. Grilled or grilled (not fried) fish is the best thing to add to your diet, along with some of the other foods mentioned above.

Omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil or cod liver oil, offer many of the same benefits as getting these fats through food sources. These supplements are generally considered safe when taken in moderation. However, there are some potential drawbacks to consider.

risk of bleeding

There is some evidence that omega-3 supplementation may enhance the effect of anticoagulant medications, herbs, and nutritional supplements. When taken together, they may increase your risk of bleeding or decrease your ability to stop the bleeding.

Other possible drug interactions

More research is needed on how fish oil supplements interact with other medications and supplements. In particular, there may be adverse interactions between omega-3 supplements and medications taken for blood pressure, birth control, and weight loss.

General side effects

Some users of omega-3 supplements have noted general discomfort associated with it. This may include heartburn, nausea and diarrhea.

Other side effects of omega-3 supplements that some have noted include a fishy taste and bad breath, along with a rash in some cases. Those with a seafood allergy should consult their physicians before taking fish oil supplements.

Should you take omega-3 supplements?

Omega 3 capsules in a can of sardines

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Omega-3s are essential for cell growth and general health, and it is crucial to include them in your normal dietary intake. Ideally, this is best done through sources such as fish, walnuts, flaxseed oil, and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

However, if you cannot include these foods in your diet, omega-3 supplements are a relatively safe alternative. It’s easy to find supplements that are packed with a balanced serving of all three major omega-3s, and they’re relatively inexpensive. Keep in mind, however, that they should be eaten in moderation and in consultation with your doctor. Some omega-3 supplements may interact with other medications or supplements you’re taking, and you may experience other side effects.

Although more research is needed to fully discover all of the benefits of omega-3s, one thing is clear: They are an important part of any balanced diet.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.