Grilling season is here, the weather is warm, this is the perfect time to indulge in fish for a light, healthy dinner. Cedar plank salmon is one of our favorite summer meals. See here for instructions on how easy plank cooking can be.
The nutrition world is buzzing about the potential health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Numerous products are showing up on grocery shelves fortified with these fatty acids and many health professionals are recommending supplements. What exactly are omega-3s and what are their health benefits? Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids essential to our diet since our body cannot make them. They have been the focus of intense scientific research in recent years due to their role in our health. Consuming a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids supports general cognitive processes and improves cardiovascular health. Deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is associated with increased risk of dementia, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Omega-3 fatty acids may be an excellent choice for preventing certain inflammatory diseases because of their ability to reduce inflammation. By acting as anti-inflammatory agents, omega-3s may be able to decrease disease activity in cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, lung fibrosis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Preliminary studies of diets in school-aged children indicate that increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids greatly improves scholastic performance. One particular study, the Durham Research Trial1, gave omega-3 supplements to children with dyspraxia (learning difficulty), ADHD, and dyslexia. Results from this trial showed the children had dramatic beneficial changes in areas such as reading, spelling, hyperactivity, attentiveness, and impulsivity.
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids
Three nutritionally important forms of omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). We can get these from a variety of foods such as fish, nuts, flaxseed, and oils. Research shows that if we consume foods that are mostly ALA, our bodies will actually convert the ALA into DHA and EPA. But some researchers feel that it’s more beneficial to just consume DHA and EPA directly, so that it’s already in a useable form and our bodies do not have to convert it into anything else. This recommendation is based on the thought that DHA and EPA have a stronger influence on our health than ALA alone.
The best sources of DHA and EPA are oily fish and shellfish. Although there is no current recommended daily amount, the American Heart Association recommends consuming two servings of cold water fish per week. Foods that contain the omega-3 ALA include flaxseed, soybeans, canola oil, and walnuts. Eating ALA foods will give you some of the benefit of the omega-3s, but for maximum health effects of omega-3s, aim for consuming the more beneficial omega-3s, DHA and EPA, directly through fish.
Should I take a supplement?
If your diet allows, eating foods high in omega-3s will give you the benefit of the fatty acids, plus other important nutrients from the food itself. If you are considering a supplement such as fish oil, always check to make sure it contains both DHA and EPA and is filtered of contaminants. Before starting any supplement, you should always talk to your doctor first, in case it might interfere with other medications you are taking.
Omega-3 per 3.5oz2
|Good Source (0.2g)||Haddock, Red snapper, Swordfish, Cod|
|Better Source (0.3-0.6g)||Halibut, Mussels, Trout (rainbow)|
|Best Source (1.5-2.2g)||Tuna (albacore), Herring, Sardines, Salmon, Mackerel (king)|
3.5oz serving is equivalent to about the size of a deck of cards
2. Exler J, Wehrauch JL. Provisional table on the content of omega-3 fatty acids and other fat components in selected foods. U.S.D.A., Human Nutrition Information Service, HNS/PT-103, 1988.