Omega-3 fatty acids…how essential are they? Extremely. It’s why they are known as ‘essential’ fatty acids. Indeed, omega-3 fatty acids cannot be produced in the body and need to be consumed through diet or supplements – hence the term essential.
Omega-3s are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are 3 main types of omega-3s including, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA cannot by synthesized in the body while EPA and DHA can be converted from ALA or obtained from several foods.
In general, omega-3s are excellent for the brain, heart, eyes and bones. It helps increase blood flow in and around the body, which will enhance the cardiovascular system. In the context of exercise, studies have shown omega-3s to have anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce muscle soreness and pain. Recent evidence on omega-3s has shown it to increase the uptake of amino acids, especially leucine, which contributes towards protein synthesis.
As per the infographic, you’ll notice that I have included fish as sources of omega-3s. Indeed, fish are very rich in omega-3s and should be your go-to option if you’re looking to get a good amount of omega-3s from your diet. Of course, there are other sources out there such as flaxseed (and their oils), rapeseed oil and walnuts, to name a few.
So how much do you need? For general health, you’re looking at an intake of 500mg – 1g of omega-3s per day. That’s roughly 2-3 150g servings of fish per week. For the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease, anywhere between 2-4g per day seems about right.
In terms of supplementation, most studies conducted have used the 2-4g per day dosage. This is where they have seen the benefits of fish oils take place. So if you’re looking to supplement with fish oils, find a supplement with a higher dosage of omega-3 fatty acids. Typically, the directions with each supplement will allow individuals to supplement with fish oils within the 1g per day range, if not more. This is completely fine.
Similar to multi-vitamins, I always suggest my clients to eat whole foods, in this case, fish, to obtain the essential nutrients you need on a daily basis. So, prior to supplementing with fish oils, I suggest you increase your fish intake to 2-3 times per week. And vary the types of fish you eat to obtain the different nutrients and dosages of fatty acids found in each fish.
Seafood is a tricky one though, as I know a lot of people don’t have a liking for it. They simply can’t stand the taste, texture or even smell of fish! In this case, supplementing with fish/cod/salmon oils is absolutely no problem.
In all cases, omega-3 fatty acids are essential and you do need to incorporate this nutrient within your diet. Only if you are allergic to seafood, have a low tolerance towards fish or simply can’t afford to keep buying fish on a weekly basis, then think food first and supplements second.