Basics of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

You've probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids. And you've probably heard that they are good for you. These nutrients have garnered a lot of attention in the health and nutrition world. But what exactly are they? Why are they so good for you? And should you be taking a fish oil supplement? In this article, I break down the basics of omega-3 fatty acids.

I'll help you understand what omega-3 fatty acids are, why you need them, and how to boost your omega-3 intake in a healthy way.

I will cover:

First, let's discover what omega-3 fatty acids really are and what they do in the body. You might be surprised by how important this particular type of fat is for your health.

Omega-3 written on a small chalkboard next to two pieces of healthy omega-3- rich salmon.

What are omega 3s?

Omega 3 refers to a specific type of fat.

These fatty acids belong to a family of fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids. What that means is that in their molecular structure, they have more than one double bond in their carbon chain. This group of fats is a very healthy type of fat. They are typically liquid at room temperature.

Omega 3s are what we refer to as essential fatty acids.

Essential fatty acids are those kinds of fats that our bodies cannot just make from scratch. We must get these fats directly from the foods that we eat in our diet. This means that our bodies require us to eat certain foods so that we can get enough omega-3 intake to keep everything running well.

There are other types of omega fatty acids like omega-6 fatty acids. Different foods contain different amounts of the various fatty acids, like omega 3 and omega 6. And the different fatty acids have differing effects in the body. For example, whereas omega-3 fatty acids promote health and lower inflammation, omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation.

Let's take a closer look at the major health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.


Health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are very important in the body. They play a number of essential roles, helping everything to function smoothly.

Omega 3s are involved in everything from our hormones to our moods to our memories to our hearts.

In the body, omega 3s...

  • Make your cell membranes strong.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Keep your cell receptors healthy.
  • Help make hormones.
  • Regulate genetic function.
  • Keep triglyceride levels in check.

And that is just the start of the list. They perform a wide range of functions that impact your entire body.

Upping your omega-3 intake can help you support your body in staying healthy and avoiding disease. It may be helpful for things like coronary heart disease, dementia, and more.

For example, omega-3 fatty acids are very good for your brain, eyes, and heart. And they can be especially helpful as you age, keeping your cognitive function in peak shape.


The three types of omega-3 fatty acids

There are three major types of omega 3s that are important for the body. These are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA alpha-linolenic acid).

These are the three omega 3s that you have likely heard of, and which are commonly found in various over-the-counter supplements.

Let's break down these three fatty acids, looking at the unique benefits and common food sources of each.

1. DHA

DHA is the short name for docosahexaenoic acid. This omega-3 fatty acid is great for the brain, eye, and heart. I like to think of DHA as food for the brain. This omega 3 is really important if you have any type of dementia or memory issues.

Food sources of DHA: Fish, fish oil, algae, eggs, grass-fed beef, and quite a few other foods.

2. EPA

EPA is also known as eicosapentaenoic acid. This omega 3 is great for the eye and heart, along with many other things. It is also really good at fighting inflammation.

Reducing inflammation is really important for fighting a large number of diseases and staying healthy, as it can cause a lot of health problems.

Food sources of EPA: Fish, fish oil, algae, eggs, and grass-fed beef.

3. ALA

Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, is good for the heart. It is also important for the brain and cognitive function. And it is another good anti-inflammatory fat.

There is some data out there that says that when you consume ALA, it will convert into DHA or EPA in the body. But it turns out that just 0.1-0.5% gets converted. That is a pretty small number. So you shouldn't count on your ALA consumption to help you get enough DHA or EPA. If you are stressed or sick in any way, little to none of the ALA will get converted and that just won't cut it.

Food sources of ALA: Flax, chia, and walnuts.


The ideal omega 3 to omega 6 ratio

When it comes to the omega 3s, something important to note is the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 intake.

Most Americans consume a 1 to 20 ratio, meaning that they consume way more omega 6s than omega 3s. And that isn't a good thing. And as I mentioned earlier, omega 6s will increase inflammation while omega 3s will decrease it.

Most of us really need to up our omega-3 intake and decrease our omega-6 intake. Ideally, the ratio should be closer to 1 to 1. That will help us to stay healthier.

Omega 6s are found in things like poultry, nuts, vegetable oils, grains, canola oil, soybean oil, and more. So you will want to eat less of those, and more of the food sources of DHA, EPA, and ALA.

Learn more about omega-6 fatty acids and improving your ratio here.


How to get enough omega 3s

Remember, omega 3s are essential fatty acids, meaning that you have to get them from your diet. Your body cannot make them itself, so these fatty acids have to come from the foods you eat.

Most of us need to eat more omega 3s in our diets. So how can you boost your intake? Fortunately, there are many healthy, tasty options that you can add to your diet. Let's take a closer look at foods high in omega 3.

Foods high in omega 3s on a white table, including salmon, fish, flax, walnuts, eggs, and sardines.

Omega-3 rich foods

Some of the best omega-3 rich foods you can eat include:

  • Fish (especially fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring).
  • Algae.
  • Eggs.
  • Grass-fed beef.

There are plenty of other foods that contain DHA, EPA, and ALA. But the foods listed above contain some of the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Apparently, our bodies were designed to consume fish and these other foods. They have the most bioavailable omega 3s, and we need plenty of omega 3s for our bodies to function properly.

Try to eat a few servings of fish per week. If you are vegetarian, opt for algae. Algae are a nutrient-dense food that has a lot of omega-3 fatty acids in it.

You can also choose to take a supplement to get enough omega 3s. However, not all omega-3 supplements are created equal.

Notes on omega-3 supplementation

Many people opt to take a fish oil supplement to boost their omega-3 intake. However, fish oil and other omega 3-rich oils tend to go bad quickly.

Fish oils and other oils like flax are pretty fragile and oxidize quickly. That means that they go rancid very fast. So by the time you get to them, they are no longer good for you.

The very best option is to grind these oils yourself. And second best is to consume high-quality oil that comes in a dark bottle and is very, very fresh. But it can be hard to find a good option. So you have to do your homework and find a quality brand.

I recommend finding a high-quality virgin cod liver oil supplement rather than generic fish oil. Krill oil is also a really great source of omega 3s.

These might be more expensive than the brand name fish oils out there, but they actually work. And they will be totally worth your investment.

Cod liver oil supplements with omega 3s capsules laid out in the shape of a fish on white background.

The bottom line

Omega-3 fats are an important component of any diet. As an essential fat, we have to eat these fatty acids in our diets so that our bodies can function properly and we can avoid common health problems.

These fatty acids play many important roles in the body. And everything from heart disease to dementia can benefit from omega-3 fats. When it comes to helping prevent disease, these are a great nutrient to turn to.

Here are some key takeaways to remember when it comes to the basics of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Make omega-3s a priority in your diet, especially if you want to focus on your brain, heart, and eye health. Remember, omega-3 fatty acids are great for lowering inflammation, which is a really good thing to do for your body.
  • Eat more foods high in omega 3s, like wild-caught fatty fish, eggs, and grass-fed beef. Upping your fish consumption to a few times a week is a very healthy choice.
  • Eat less foods high in omega 6, like poultry, nuts, grains, and vegetable oils.
  • Stay away from generic fish oil brands. Fish oil goes rancid fast, as do other omega 3 oils. Choose a high-quality, fresh alternative.
  • Opt for virgin cod liver oil. This is a great choice as a fish oil supplement. Krill oil is another excellent option.
  • If you are vegetarian or eat a plant-based diet, add algae into your diet. This is a great vegetarian option for getting plenty of your omega-3 fats.

Omega 3s are an important nutrient that should be a major focus of your diet. If you want a healthy brain, heart, eyes, and more, then don't forget them.

What are your favorite ways to add more omega 3s into your diet? Do you have a favorite omega-3 dietary supplement? Leave a comment for me below, and share your thoughts and ideas.



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