Omega 3 fatty acids are healthy polyunsaturated fats that can help to boost heart health. A nutritious diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation, prevent heart disease and arthritis, positively impact behaviour and cognitive function, and even help us look better. No type of fat has been getting more publicity than omega-3 and we are likely to have seen television commercials or read about this unique type of fat. However, much of the omega-3 publicity we have heard has probably been focused on dietary supplements rather than food. In this article, we will look at omega-3 in our food and the best ways to balance the meal plan for a strong omega-3 support.
To include Omega 3 in our diets, we must first understand the composition of Omega 3. There are actually three types of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are collectively referred to as omega 3s. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is found in plant sources, while DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are found in fish and shellfish. The body has enzymes that can convert ALA to EPA and DHA — the two types that are more readily used by the body. ALA, EPA, and DHA all play important roles in support of our health, but the most valued among them is DHA.
Natural Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
Experts say we should consume at least 2% of our total daily calories as omega-3 fatty acids; i.e. if we consume 2000 calories per day, our food should provide at least 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. When it comes to increasing our omega-3 fatty acids intake, we just need to focus on bringing more omega 3 rich foods into our diets. Nuts, plants and fish top the list of natural sources. For non-vegetarians, fish is an excellent source of Omega 3, especially DHA. Among the fishes that are easily available in India Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines and Tuna are some of the recommendations. For vegetarians, the diet has to depend on conversion from ALA to EPA, and from EPA to DHA. The best sources are flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil and green leafy vegetables. Here is a list of food sources that contain Omega 3 and can be incorporated in our diets:
- Flaxseed (The best source for LNA)
- Legumes (moong, kidney, peas or split peas)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brazil Nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Dark green leafy vegetables (Spinach, Kale, Mustard greens, Collard)
- Canola Oil (Best source for omega 3 for cooking)
- Soybean oil
- Citrus fruits, Melons and Cherries
In addition to all the above natural sources, Omega 3 supplements are easily available in the market today. But care should be taken while using these supplements, as excessive use can lead to health hazards. Omega 3 can best be absorbed and utilized by our body, if conscious effort is taken to avoid saturated fats, transfats, and sugars.