Questions About n-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids (or n-3 fatty acids) are essential fatty acids. They are essential to overall health but cannot be manufactured by the body and one must obtain these from foods or supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids have been widely studied and are considered very healthy for us with disease fighting potential. They are considered to have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown the potential benefit in reducing cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, improvement in symptoms of depression and attention deficit disorder, improvement in arthritis symptoms and further research is taking place regarding omega-3 fatty acids and their impact on cancer incidence.
There are three major types of n-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). When consumed, the body converts ALA to DHA and EPA, which are more readily used by the body. Common food sources of ALA include canola oil, tofu, flaxseed and walnuts. The EPA and DHA are mainly found in fatty fish like salmon, lake trout, mackerel, and albacore tuna.
Research suggests that we best absorb omega-3 fatty acids from whole foods rather than supplements. The exact dosage for omega-3 fatty acids somewhat depends on your health goals. The American Heart Association recommends that we consume at least two servings of fatty fish per week. If supplementation is necessary, one can find omega-3 fatty acids in a gel cap form. Those aiming to reduce triglycerides should take around 2-4 grams of DHA + EPA per day (under medical supervision). People with documented coronary heart disease should aim for around 1 gram of DHA + EPA per day. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, one-quarter cup of flaxseeds contains about 7 grams of omega-3 fatty acids while one-quarter cup of walnuts contains about 2.3 grams. A four- ounce piece of salmon contains around 1.5-2.0 g and tuna contains around 1.5 grams a serving. Check with your doctor before starting any supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids.
Many people are fearful of metal contamination in seafood (mercury). In response to these fears and concerns, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has released its “Super Green List” of safe seafood choices. These are low in environmental contaminants and are good choices of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These include Albacore Tuna (troll or pole-caught from the U.S. or British Columbia), mussels (farmed), oysters (farmed), Pacific sardines (wild-caught), pink shrimp (wild-caught), Rainbow trout (farmed), salmon (wild-caught from Alaska), Spot prawns (wild-caught from British Columbia). Other healthy “Best Choices” from the list include: Arctic Char (farmed), Bay scallops (farmed), and crayfish (farmed from the U.S.).