Omega 3s – Why you need them and How to get them

Why do you need Omega 3s?

  1. When Omega 3 consumption increases, your risk of cardiovascular disease decreases
  2. High levels of the Omega 3 fatty acid – DHA are required for optimal mental performance and vision
  3. Low levels of Omega 3s have been associated with depression, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, as well as developmental coordination disorder.
  4. Omega 3 supplements have been shown to improve the condition of chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, various skin disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Crohn’s disease
  5. Omega 3s may help men reduce their risk of prostate cancer.
  6. And if that isn’t enough, various population studies have also shown that diets high in Omega 3s have been effective in preventing:
  • chronic eye conditions (cataracts, dry eye),
  • epilepsy,
  • allergic sensitivity in very young children,
  • pneumonia,
  • lung/breathing capacity and chronic pulmonary disorders,
  • bone health, and
  • fibromyalagia

Now you know why you need Omega 3s.

So, what’s the best way to get them?

Currently, there is a bit of disagreement between Omega 3 experts.

On one hand, we have experts like Dr. David Jenkins who prefer we get our Omega 3s from the plant based Omega 3 – ALA.

Dietary sources of the Omega 3 – ALA include:

  • Flaxseed
  • canola oil
  • English walnuts
  • specialty eggs

Dr. Jenkins believes that ALA is an effective source of Omega 3s and because it can be found in vegetarian sources such as canola, walnuts and soy, it is superior to the fish-sourced Omega 3s -EPA & DHA.

Dr. Jenkins cites the crisis of global fisheries as an important reason to choose vegetarian sources of Omega 3s.

However, critics of Dr. Jenkins position claim that the majority of Omega 3 fish oil supplements rely on smaller, less commercially attractive fish such as herring and anchovies. These fish are available in large numbers due to their lack of market popularity and higher reproduction rate.

In addition, supplement manufacturers are trying to improve the harvesting of algae and krill as potential mainstream sources of Omega 3s.

Dietary sources of the Omega 3 – EPA include:

  • Fish,
  • fish oils
  • marine sources like krill & algae

Dietary sources of the Omega 3 – DHA include:

  • Fish,
  • fish oils
  • specialty egg/dairy products

And if that wasn’t complicated enough

There is significant research that shows that ALA is an inferior source of Omega 3s.

And why is that?

It’s because our bodies require that ALA be converted into EPA and/or DHA for use in our bodies.

And, apparently our bodies do a pretty poor job of making DHA out of ALA.

So, if you want the benefits of DHA:

You should probably go with a combined EPA/DHA Omega 3 supplement.

But, then again, just about every day, there is some new Omega 3 research being published….so stay tuned.

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  1. WOW I am so conflicted so I am going to split myself into two people with my comments.

    Nutritionist me: I think that fish oil is definitely far superior to ALA because ALA is inefficiently converted to DHA etc and so you don’t get very much of the benefits of omega 3 if you get it from vegetable sources.

    Marine Biologist me ( I have a PhD in this): to say that herring and anchovies are sustainable is ludicrous. These fish populations cannot sustain all the harvesting. We may not eat them but they are used for lots of industries such as aquaculture and of course omega 3 oils and there is plenty more. Also when we deplete the oceans of these guys this tends to breakdown the pelagic food chain. Herring and other associated fishies are patchy and so it can seem like there is a lot when in fact they are actually depleting which is what happened to the cod industry in eastern North America.

  2. Dan,

    Not a simple issue is it?

    I also question the claims about sustainability. The only people who benefit from questioning the sustainability of the herring/sardine/etc populations are flax oil salesmen, PETA et al and the fish themselves.

    I am curious about the potential use of algae as a source of omega 3s. Do you know anything about this?

  3. “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”

    Thanks for the link Steve – I will check it out

  4. I’ve been thinking about this lately too.

    I was going to mention, DR, that you can find tons of microalgae DHA supplements online. I don’t know anything about them though. Looks like you have your next omega-3 post set up for you!

  5. […] for healthy fresh fish, packed with omega-3 fatty acids. If you’ve read HealthHabits’ Omega 3s – Why you need them and How to get them, you know how important omega-3’s are for your health. Paired with fresh veg you’ve got […]

  6. Research suggests Omega 3 fatty acids are a good source to build or maintain the healthy fat in our system and brain. Indeed, research suggests consumption of Omega 3s can help to fight off dementia. Foods rich in Omega 3s include fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, and sardines. Unsalted nuts such as walnuts are also rich in Omega 3s. It is suggested that we increase our fish intake to several ounces several times a week.

    Another important brain boosting food includes fruits and vegetables because they are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help to rid the body of oxygen based toxins known as free radicals thought to create breakdown in muscle and tissue. At least one national governing body indicates we should consume five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

  7. As a vegan, I take algae oil. It’s expensive, but it’s got the formulation of fish oil without the ethical or ecological issues.

    Spectrum Essentials has some. I’m sure there will be others going forward.

  8. I came across this site when looking for omega 3 rich foods. I am allergic to both fish and nuts and some seeds, pulses and fruit. Otherwise I think I eat a balanced diet – I eat protein, carbohydrates and vegetables and fruit everyday.
    Is there any other specific ways of getting the right amount of omega 3?

  9. Sorry about the alllergies. That makes things a little harder.

    No fish and no seeds(flax) makes things a little bit tougher

    However, there are vegetarian omega 3 supplements that use algae as their source of omega 3 fatty acids. That might work for you.

    Krill oil may be an even better option

    I haven’t done that much research into krill/algae sources of Omega 3 so I can’t give you a recommendation. I guess I need to do some research. If you find some interesting info on your own, please come back & comment or email me with your findings

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