Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for health. We need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain, and since our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, we must get them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. New studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
There are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets: One type is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in some vegetable oils, such as soybean, rapeseed (canola), flaxseed, and in walnuts. ALA is also found in some green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens. The other type, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is found in fatty fish. The body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA.
Experts say that DHA and EPA — from fish and fish oil — have better established health benefits than ALA. DHA and EPA are found together only in fatty fish and algae. DHA can also be found on its own in algae, while flaxseed and plant sources of omega-3s provide ALA — a precursor to EPA and DHA, and a source of energy.
You may have heard about the importance of having a healthy balance of omega-3s with another fatty acid, omega-6s.
Many experts believe that most people in the U.S. are eating far too many omega-6s and far too few omega-3 fatty acids. They argue that this imbalance may be causing many chronic diseases.
Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients, meaning that our bodies cannot make them and we must obtain them from food. They are abundant in the Western diet; common sources include safflower, corn, cottonseed, soybean oils, nuts and seeds.
When eaten in moderation and in place of the saturated fats found in meats and dairy products, omega-6 fatty acids can actually be good for your heart and brain.
The most common omega-6 fatty acids are Linoleic Acid (LA) and Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA). GLA is found in Primose, Black Currant and Borage oil.
Dominick Walsh is a blogger for Performance Nutrition and TMRzoo.com and covers all men’s health topics and exercise issues including protein powders, diets, weight loss, weight lifting supplements, fat burners and supplement reviews. Dominick’s columns cover everything you need to know about your pre, during and post workout nutrition.