There are three types of omega 3s:
ALA – α-linolenic acid
EPA– eicosapentaenoic acid
DHA – docosahexaenoic acid
ALA is a ‘short chain’ omega-3 and can be found in a variety of foods such as rapeseed oil, walnuts, soy, flaxseed oil and pumpkin seeds. For this reason it is more easily factored into our diets.
However, it is thought that long chain omega 3s – EPA and DHA – are the most beneficial. The body can convert ALA into both of these forms, but conversion rate is less than 5%, so we need to supplement this through our diet. The only sources of both EPA and DHA are fish, fish oil, algae and, in much lower levels, seaweed.
It is therefore vital that we all try to incorporate more fish oil into our diets to ensure we are getting enough of these essential nutrients.
But what do we need these omega-3s for?
Omega-3s play an important role in a number of aspects of health, including:
Brain function. Omega-3s contribute significantly to cognitive ability, and researchers are looking into its effect on Alzheimer’s and dementia with positive results.
Heart health. There is strong evidence to show that omega-3s reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing triglycerides in the blood – a type of fat which, like cholesterol, increases the risk of heart disease
Healthy pregnancy. In pregnant women, omega-3s help the development of the foetus’ major organs and are thought to reduce the risk of premature birth
Mood and mental health. Research into the anti-depressive effects of omega-3s has generally had positive results – meaning that symptoms of depression may be alleviated by increasing fish oil intake. Some research also suggests that it can alleviate anxiety problems, and symptoms of ADHD
Eye health. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce dry eye syndrome and promote the protection and repair of the eye. It is also thought that they play a role in preventing the development of cataracts and macular degeneration
Inflammation. Omega-3s are great anti-inflammatories, so they can be useful in reducing chronic pain, arthritis, back ache or neck ache
Hair and skin. Increased omega-3 intake is shown to leave skin and hair strong, reduce dandruff, and its inflammatory properties may reduce skin conditions like acne.
How can I get more fish oil in my diet?
There are two ways to increase your fish oil, and therefore omega-3, intake.
Firstly, incorporate more oily fish into your diet. Try to have fish such as mackerel, trout, herring, tuna, salmon, and sardines at least once a week, ideally twice a week. These can easily be added to pasta dishes, salad, homemade pizza or baked potatoes; or if you get good weather, you can grill them on a barbecue.
In addition, you should add a fish oil supplement into your diet. This helps maintain the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 intake, which can be hard to achieve through diet alone, and are particularly useful for people who don’t like fish. Vegetarian or vegan? Try Viridian's Vegan EPA and DHA drops or Natural Factor's Marine Algae-3
Vegetarian or vegan? Not to worry! While it is difficult to get sufficient levels of EPA and DHA in your diet without eating fish, there are a number of algae supplements available on the market that contain EPA and DHA and will help you increase your intake.