Healthy Diet: Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids have recently gained a lot of attention from media, health practitioners and food distributors alike; but what exactly are omega 3 fatty acids, and what are the nutritional benefits of incorporating fatty acids into a regular diet? The following nutrition facts regarding omega 3 benefits can help you understand precisely what the omega 3 foods health buzz is all about.

What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids meaning that they can only be obtained from food sources in your diet and cannot be manufactured from other nutrients by the body. In other words, if you do not obtain sufficient quantities directly from foods containing omega 3 fatty acids, your body cannot compensate for this deficiency in your diet.

Omega 3, as well as Omega 6 fatty acids, are considered polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Eating a diet that balances the quantities of these two PUFAs is a crucial part of maintaining health including normal growth and development as well as healthy brain functioning (since omega 3 acids tend to be concentrated in the brain.)

A healthy balance of these essential fatty acids involves maintaining a ratio of one omega 3 fatty acid to every four omega 6 fatty acids. The average American diet is believed to contain exceeding amounts of omega 6 fatty acids, with a typical ration of one mega 3 to every 11-30 omega 6 fatty acids. This has made the intake of sufficient levels of omega 3 fatty acids an important focus for the American diet.

Types of Omega 3 fatty Acids

There are three main types of omega 3 fatty acids that are derived from foods and that are used by the body:

  • EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
  • DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
  • ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)

EPA and DHA Omega 3 fatty acids are most readily absorbed and used by the body; however, ALA fatty acids which are mostly derived from vegetarian food sources are naturally converted into EPA and DHA by the body.

Omega 3 Sources

The following are some common foods containing omega 3 fatty acids:

  • APA
    • dark green, leafy vegetables
    • (ground) flax seeds
    • hemp seeds
    • (raw) walnuts
    • soybeans
    • pumpkin seeds
    • certain vegetable oils and oils derived from omega 3 foods
  • EPA and DHA
    • cold water fish including salmon, cod, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines, and tuna
    • fresh seaweed
    • organically raised animal products such as free range eggs, chicken, and grass-fed beef

In addition, Mediterranean diets are believed to contain well balanced omega 3 foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic and moderate wine consumption combined with little meat intake.

Omega 3 Benefits

Studies have linked Omega 3 fatty acids and a diet balancing Omega 3 and Omega 6 with a variety of health benefits. It is believed that an inappropriate balance of these fatty acids contributes to the development of serious diseases.

Omega 3 balance has been linked extensively with reducing inflammation and preventing certain chronic diseases such as heart disease and arthritis. Omega 3 benefits have been shown to help treat or prevent the following conditions:

  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • diabetes
  • weight loss
  • arthritis
  • osteoporosis
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • eating disorders
  • burns and skin disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • asthma
  • eye disease (such as macular degeneration and glaucoma)
  • menstrual pain
  • breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer
  • ulcers
  • migraine headaches
  • preterm labor
  • emphysema and psoriasis
  • Lyme disease
  • lupus
  • panic attacks

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