Be In the Know with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
As we continue to focus on heart health this month, let’s talk about Omega-3 fatty acids! There are many omega-3’s found in nature, but the 3 most popular are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These molecules are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and they are necessary for health and cannot be produced in the body. Some possible health benefits include preventing heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer. It may also help control things like lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Alpha-linolenic acid is found from a variety of plant sources like kale, spinach, soybeans, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and canola oil. Before the body can use ALA, it must be converted into EPA or DHA. The conversion process is inefficient in the human body (between 1 and 10%) and is dependent upon other nutrient levels such as copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and various B vitamins. If your body has low levels of these nutrients, conversion of ALA to EPA or DHA will be even lower.
Eicosapentaenoic acid is found from a variety of animal sources such as herring, salmon, shrimp and algae. EPA can be utilized by the body without conversion. Studies have found that high intake of EPA can reduce symptoms of depression and decrease the number of hot flashes in menopausal women.
Docosahexaenoic acid is also found in a variety of animal sources such as mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon and cod liver. No conversion is needed for DHA to provide its many health benefits in the body. Studies have found that DHA improves brain development in children and brain function in adults, boosts memory and thinking skills, and reduces the risk of heart disease and reduces high cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for a variety of processes in the body and provide a variety of health benefits. Since they cannot be produced in the body, oral intake of omega-3 fatty acids is important. If you aren’t consuming a well rounded diet talk with your doctor to see if a supplement would be in your best interest. You can also utilize our recipes coming out this month as well as in the archives for some omega-3 packed meals and snacks!