Omega 3 Fatty Acid As Functional Food

Almost any food nowadays can be fortified with omega 3 fatty acids.  It has become a big business around the world and one of the more lasting health crazes that has cropped up over the past years.

One of the many reasons why so many health professionals have been raving about the wonders of omega 3 fatty acids for many years now is because these fats are very essential to our bodily functions, from building cells walls to keeping our brains healthy.  On top of this, omega 3 fatty acids also help a wide range of diseases.  These include heart disease, stroke, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, menstrual pain, and many others.

Omega 3 fatty acids have so much versatility and potential in relation to our health that a lot of studies are still ongoing and are being begun to completely understand the role they play in our bodies.

Whole Foods and Omega 3

It is an irony that omega 3 fatty acids play a major role for our bodies to function properly but we don’t produce them.  We depend on the foods we eat to get these essential fatty acids into our system.  It has only been realized that most of us are not getting enough fatty acids in our diets and, as a result, food products that are enriched with omega 3 have cropped up left and right.

Nowadays, you have plenty of choices for your source of omega 3.  There are the natural food sources like fatty fish and leafy vegetables, the fortified foods like cereals and juices, and the omega 3 supplements.

However, it is always the best bet to get your omega 3 where nutrients are found naturally.  The best source for omega 3 fatty acids is krill and oil cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, halibut, sardines, and trout.  A 4-ounce serving of canned white tuna, for example, will give you about 540 milligrams of omega 3.

Fortified Functional Foods as Alternatives

Fortified functional foods, while not the best options, are also great sources of omega 3.  We should just be careful to get the foods that are really enriched with omega 3 and do not just claim to be “a good source” of omega 3.

The standard daily dose of omega 3 to be taken has still not been established.  But studies have shown that 500 to 1,000 milligrams a day will provide the desired benefits for healthy people, while people who want to lower their triglyceride levels should consume 2 to 4 grams daily.

Depending on the brands of the food you choose, the amount of omega 3 in fortified foods varies.  These products include pasta, soy milk, oatmeal, cereal, and other dairies.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids are Not Created Equally

We should be aware that there are three types of omega 3 fatty acids and our body uses each one differently.

DHA and EPA are the fatty acids that have shown the most benefits to our health.  These fatty acids are found in abundance in seafood and marine algae.  ALA, on the other hand, comes from plant-based foods like canola oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.  ALA is not used by the body as efficiently as the other two and, therefore, provides fewer benefits.

The nutritional facts on the food labels of fortified foods should be read carefully to determine if the product actually contains the kind of omega 3 fatty acids that the body needs.  Sometimes, this products that claim to be omega 3-enriched use ALA from plants because it doesn’t give a strong odor or flavor to the product, unlike DHA and EPA from fish.

The Basics of Omega 3

Here, in brief, is research on the benefits of each omega-3 fatty acid:

  • DHA, a long-chain omega 3 fatty acid, can be derived from many seafood like salmon, tuna, and shellfish.  Another good source is marine algae, which is what most fish eat.  DHA is very essential to the healthy brains of adults and the neurological and visual development of a child.  If you read the labels of functional foods, you will see that the product is enriched with DHA from algae oils.
  • EPA is also a long-chain omega 3 fatty acid and can be derived mostly from cold-water fish and fish oils.  Together with DHA, EPA has been shown to help a lot of health conditions like bipolar depression, cancer, macular degeneration, and cardiovascular conditions.  DHA and EPA are the fatty acids that our body uses more efficiently.
  • ALA can be derived mostly from green, leafy plants like spinach, kale, and other salad greens.  Other ALA-rich sources are flax, soy, walnuts, and canola oils.  The body converts ALA into DHA and EPA but it does this inefficiently.  The conversion is incomplete and is estimated to be only about 5% of ALA converted.  That is why it is important to get DHA and EPA directly from their sources.

Studies suggest that ALAs can confer health benefits, and experts recommend getting at least 2 grams daily. But most of the research establishes the health benefits of DHAs and EPAs, which is why many dietitians encourage people to focus on getting these omega-3s in their diet.

  • The benefits of DHA and EPA are more established than those of ALA, but some experts still recommend getting at least 2 grams of ALA omega 3 daily.
  • It is very essential that pregnant and breastfeeding women get their daily dose of DHA. Studies have shown that children born to mothers who took DHA have better cognitive development. If contaminated fish are a concern, algae oils are also great alternative sources of DHA.

How Much is Too Much?

Over-consumption of omega 3 from natural foods is very unlikely.  The dosage of omega 3 supplements, however, should be supervised by a doctor.  Additionally, people who are on anti-clotting medication should also consult a doctor first before taking any fish oil supplements because these have an anti-clotting factor and may cause bleeding.

Too Much Omega 6

Omega 6 are the fatty acids that we get too much of.  They are derived from processed foods like crackers, cakes, and cookies.  When consumed in large amounts, omega 6 fatty acids promote inflammation which may then lead to chronic diseases.  The healthy ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 is four to one.  But it is very typical for a typical person to have up to 30 times more omega 6 than omega 3 in his diet.

It is very vital that there is a balance between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids in the body.  Omega 6 and omega 3 both use the same hormones to do different things.  An imbalance between the two may cause the blood pressure to rise, heart problems, and inflammation.

Since our diet is already rich in omega 6, it is important to consume more of omega 3 food sources like fish, leafy greens, and fortified foods.  All the studies about the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids may still not be conclusive, but getting more of them from our diet can only do us a lot of good.

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2 Responses

  1. shercyramos says:

    The guidelines and the descriptive explanation that you gave is truly helpful and relevant. Thank you also for the links that you have given it opens the door for more in-depth research on this subject. I get to explore the benefits of Omega 3 FAtty Acids to the human body.

  1. June 10, 2009

    […] Related Article: Omega 3 Fatty Acid As Functional Food […]

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