Healthy Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3

Healthy Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

 

Although it is recommended to reduce our daily fat intake to less than 30 percent of total calories, some types of fat are critical for the body to function properly. Linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid) are the two essential fatty acids required for optimal health. A nutrient is considered an “essential” component of the diet when it cannot be made by the human body, thus requiring it to be obtained directly from food.

Fatty acids are the basic units of fat molecules. One way to categorize a fatty acid is by the number of double bonds it contains. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds and are typically found in animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, butter, and whole milk. Monounsaturated fatty acids contain one double bond. Foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids include olive and canola oils. As the name implies, polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds. Seafood and canola, soybean, and safflower oils are foods high in polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Omega-3

Two specific types of polyunsaturated fatty acids are the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fish oils and plant products are the primary dietary sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Good sources of the omega-3 fatty acids are the higher-fat seafood, such as albacore tuna, salmon, halibut, and mackerel. Flax seed oil is also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids, which have a slightly different chemical configuration from the omega-3 fatty acids, are primarily found in safflower, corn, and sunflower oils.

The Many Roles of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty acids perform diverse roles in the body; not only do they serve to insulate us against the elements, but when needed they are utilized as a back-up energy reserve. Fatty acids also play a crucial structural role as key components of cellular membranes – membranes that surround each of the billions of cells in the human body. Recent research has confirmed that a dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids is essential for optimum tissue function. The different biological roles of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Essential for proper brain and retinal development in infants
  • Improved immune function
  • Anti-inflammatory – reduces inflammation and arthritis symptoms
  • Maintains myelin (cells shielding the nerves) integrity

Current intakes: It is important to maintain a proper balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid intake. The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is 4:1 to 10:1. Because omega-6-containing foods such as corn, soy, and safflower oils are so prevalent in our diets and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids (cold water marine fish and flax seed oil) are not commonly consumed, the current U.S. ratio is believed to be around 20:1. Even though there are no current dietary recommendations for omega-3 fatty acid intake, recent evidence suggests that as little as two to three 3-ounce servings of cold water fish may have beneficial effects in reducing heart disease risk and arthritis symptoms.

This nutrient is a perfect example of “more is not always better.” Because omega-3 fatty acids affect blood-clotting time, excessive intakes may cause a bleeding disorder in some individuals. If you bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or are on blood-thinning medication, consult your physician before consuming increased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

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