Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that the human body needs to be healthy. They are essential for the proper functioning of the body, especially for heart health, vision, and mental health. But what are they really? What benefits do they offer? What are the best sources?
Let’s take a look together.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 belongs to the group of essential fatty acids. It is one of the unsaturated fatty acids that are particularly important for our body but cannot be produced by it. Therefore, the need for omega-3 fatty acids must be met through food.
The chemical composition of fatty acids is generally divided into saturated, single, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The polyunsaturated fatty acids are divided into omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Small differences in their chemical structure are responsible for the function in our body that the individual fatty acids perform.
However, the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids is highly important. Ideally, from a nutritional point of view, this should be one in five. However, in western countries, the increase in omega-6 fatty acids is usually much too high. It is therefore important to consume food sources rich in omega-a to keep an ideal ratio.
Omega 3 benefits
1. Lowers the triglyceride value
Triglycerides are molecules that fall into the category of lipids. The body synthesizes them from the fats absorbed in the intestine. In addition, the liver can also synthesize them from glucose. They are one of the main sources of reserve energy for the body. They are mainly stored in adipose tissue, that is to say in body fat.
These molecules naturally circulate through the blood, but they can be at the origin, in the event of too large quantity, of cardiovascular pathologies due to their possible deposits on the walls of the arteries.
In most cases, switching the diet to a light, Mediterranean diet and eating omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglyceride levels, can help.
2. Lowers bad cholesterol levels and protects against cardiovascular diseases
Cholesterol is part of the family of lipids, more commonly known as fats. Cholesterol circulates in the blood and is found in the membranes of all our cells, where it plays an important role in the stability, fluidity, and more broadly the structure of the cells.
In the neurons, brain cells, it allows the synthesis of neurotransmitters and therefore helps the propagation of nerve impulses.
There are two types of cholesterol — LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. The risk of cardiovascular disease is often due to elevated LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids increase good cholesterol HDL levels, lower blood pressure and promote blood circulation. Cardiac arrhythmias can be positively influenced by omega-3 fatty acids. In the long run, this can prevent sudden cardiac death.
3. Relieves the symptoms of chronic diseases
In inflammatory bowel diseases such as Chron’s disease or ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriasis, the levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and arachidonic acid are often too high. The omega-3 fatty acids do not replace medication, but they reduce the inflammatory activity and thus the pain in those affected.
4. Plays a major role in eye health
The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are found in high concentrations in various areas of the eye, especially in the first to six months of life. They are responsible for visual performance and the development and maintenance of visual acuity.
Likewise, DHA reduces age-related macular degeneration, which is a loss of vision in the central visual field. The risk of dry eyes in the elderly is also lowered by the omega-3 fatty acid.
5. Prevents mental disorders
Our brain is made up of almost 60% fat, among which are omega-3 fatty acids. As a result, the latter is essential for the proper functioning of our cognitive functions. In this context, omega-3s have been shown to prevent various problems affecting the brain system including attention deficit disorders and bipolar disorder.
Indeed, attention deficit disorders constitute a set of neurological diseases that are characterized by different disorders. Scientific studies have demonstrated a link between a relatively low level of omega-3 in the blood, and a worsening of the symptoms of the disease.
Therefore, adopting a diet rich in omega-3s or taking omega-3 supplements may help reduce symptoms of the disease, just as they support treatment for bipolar disorder.
The omega-3 fatty acids can also promote the resolution of behavioral disorders in children. They can prevent their onset with sufficient consumption during pregnancy, but also throughout childhood.
Supplementation with fish oil can improve certain disorders such as inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and even perceived aggression in some children.
6. Prevents anxiety and depression
Depression is is a frequent disease that may be substantially alleviated by consuming enough omega-3s on a daily basis. Omega-3 levels in the blood are low in people who suffer from severe depression.
Oils high in EPA and DHA fatty acids have been found to alleviate depressive symptoms. A 2007 study of people with depression indeed demonstrated the effectiveness of omega-3 supplementation against the disease.
7. Good for athletes
Not only the competitive athlete but also the amateur athlete should pay attention to the right fat intake. Omega-3 fatty acids can prevent inflammation in joints and muscles during high loads.
A study carried out by researchers at the University of Toronto has shown that omega 3 supplementation in athletes improves their neuromuscular development and reduces fatigue. For this, several athletes were supplemented with polyunsaturated fatty acids for 3 weeks.
After the test, they showed a 20% increase in muscle function, especially in the thigh. Their muscles were able to produce more strength and resist fatigue more.
Omega 3 is also excellent for bone development. An athlete’s femur needs it, especially in athletics. Thus, for young athletes, fatty acid contributes to good bone growth, builds and regenerates bone structure. By consuming foods rich in omega 3, the athlete will thus minimize the risk of fracture.
8. Important for pregnant or lactating women
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for visual function and brain development. Therefore, the baby should already be sufficiently supplied with these fatty acids in the womb. This also applies to breastfeeding, in which nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids are passed on to the baby via breast milk.
9. Reduces the symptoms of inflammation
Omega-3s, like other anti-inflammatory nutrients like curcumin, have essential anti-inflammatory characteristics that can help decrease the consequences of chronic inflammation. Obese and stressed people can supplement omega-3s to limit the production of cytokines, which are inflammatory molecules.
Fish oil (and fatty acids more generally) is effective in treating the pain associated with osteoarthritis or arthritis, as the results of preliminary studies on the subject show. Thus, fatty acids make it possible to reduce joint pain and stiffness. They can also prevent too much medication in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
10. Promotes weight loss
A large number of chronic diseases can be favored by overweight and obesity. A weight problem can therefore have a very big impact on a person’s general health. Heart disease, different types of cancer, type 2 diabetes … It turns out that omega-3s are perfectly integrated into the context of a diet or a rebalancing of food to lose weight and improve the body composition, favoring the development of muscles as well as the elimination of fat.
Indeed, omega-3s can promote the development of muscle mass. Combined with a healthy diet and regular physical activity, sources of omega-3s like fish oil can both help build muscle and promote weight loss. This makes it possible to restore a certain nutritional balance favorable to the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle.
11. Improves liver function with fatty acids
The liver is an organ whose mission is to process the fat in our body. It can therefore have a very important role in weight regulation and fat storage. Certain nutrients and foods support the liver in its work and allow it to be more efficient while protecting it from ailments and other problems like NAFLD, non-alcoholic liver disease, which manifests itself as a build-up of fat in the liver.
Fatty acids work to improve our liver function and can help reduce the amount of fat that builds up in the body.
12. Keeps your skin healthy and beautiful
Another benefit of fatty acids is their ability to improve the health of our skin, which tends to break down over the years. After prolonged exposure to the sun or simply aging, our skin cells deteriorate. One of the missions of omega-3s is to nourish our skin and keep it healthy despite the passage of time.
Fish oil can also be used to treat diseases such as psoriasis.
Symptoms of omega-3 deficiency
Are you having problems concentrating and find yourself making careless mistakes that should not happen? You might be experiencing concentration problems.
Concentration problems can be caused by various factors. These include, for example, a sleep deficit or various nutrient deficiencies. Among other things, an omega-3 deficiency can be the cause, as fatty acids are important for our brain function.
When it comes to the effects of an omega-3 deficiency on the brain, a lack of concentration is not the only sign. Because of their impact on brain function, a lack of fatty acids can also make you feel restless or upset. If the restlessness persists, you should consult a doctor to get to the bottom of the cause.
Are you constantly tired even though you have no problems falling asleep or staying asleep? Persistent fatigue can be due to various causes. In addition to sleep problems, the triggers include a lack of fluid or exercise, an unhealthy diet, or a lack of nutrients such as iron or omega-3 fatty acids.
When it comes to problems with the eyes, very few people think of a nutrient deficiency. But in fact, too little intake of omega-3 fatty acids can affect vision. For example, dry or inflamed eyes, as well as visual disturbances, may occur. If you have problems with your eyes, see a doctor.
In addition to poor vision, muscle weakness, medically referred to as hypotension or myasthenia, can also occur in the case of an omega-3 deficiency. In addition to a lack of exercise, a lack of nutrients is one of the most common causes of muscle weakness. If you suffer from reduced muscle strength or muscle tension, seek medical advice.
Our diet and the nutrients we eat have a huge impact on our skin. Since omega-3 fatty acids support the skin’s natural protective barrier, have an anti-inflammatory effect, and moisturize the skin, skin problems such as dry skin or skin impurities can also be the result of a deficiency.
Omega 3 Foods
Flaxseed is a popular and affordable seed that is known for its positive effect on bowel movement. Many people sprinkle flaxseed over a salad or use it at breakfast. It comes from the flax crop. It is an ancient plant that blooms with blue or white flowers.
Most of the flaxseed comes from Canada. This is where around 40% of global production comes from.
Flaxseed is very rich in omega 3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and fiber. To benefit from these nutrients, it is best to crush the flaxseed in advance with a coffee grinder. Do this just before use, otherwise, the fats in the seed will oxidize.
Unlike lean fish, or white fish, such as cod, sole, whiting, perch, Alaska pollock, or swordfish, oily fish, with pink or darker flesh, are the richest in omega 3. However, it is advisable to opt for wild fish, less loaded with heavy metals compared to farmed fish. Oily fish are the best sources of omega 3 from animal sources. Some fish are offered at affordable prices and allow everyone to adopt a balanced diet.
Shellfish and seafood
Seafood and shellfish are also very rich in omega 3. They are nevertheless far from being able to compete with fish, in particular oily fish. Oysters are among the richest seafood in omega 3 fatty acids. They contain 672 mg per 100 grams.
They also have a high zinc content. In fact, the oyster is the richest food in zinc on the planet. Oysters are also rich in copper and vitamin B12 (nearly 300% of the RDI for the latter). Vary the seafood you eat to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
Chia seeds are very popular with vegetarians and vegans who use them in many recipes. Indeed, they offer good amounts of omega 3 and allow you to fill up on protein. In addition to their high omega 3 content of 4915 mg per tablespoon, chia seeds are also particularly rich in minerals, such as manganese, calcium, or phosphorus, and protein. They also contain all eight essential amino acids for the body, making them a prime source of nutrients.
Pistachio is a nut that acts on the reduction of “bad cholesterol” and allows to increase “good cholesterol”. This is partly due to their high content of omega 3 fatty acids.
Pistachio is also the nut richest in phytosterol which is an antioxidant. Consumption of pistachio has been associated with improved glucose metabolism, lipid profile, and vascular function.
Furthermore, pistachio is relatively low in calories (compared to other nuts) and is, therefore, a good choice as a snack. Click here for more information about the nutritional value of pistachios.
Hemp seeds are real “superfoods”. Excellent sources of vegetable proteins perfectly supplemented by eight essential amino acids (only provided by food), they strengthen hair, nails, and skin.
The ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids in hemp seeds is excellent for preventing cardiovascular disease, regulating cholesterol levels, or even strengthening the immune system.
Walnuts are one of the best-known, healthiest, and most eaten nuts in the United States. Actually, walnuts are not real nuts but fall under the category of stone fruits.
Walnuts have a significant percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids, accounting for more than 70% of their total lipids. Short-chain omega-3 essential fatty acids account for about a quarter of these acids.
Although the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is appropriate, it lacks long-chain omega-3.
It’s best to buy walnuts in their shells since the unsaturated fats in shelled walnuts oxidize more quickly.
Rapeseed oil is not the richest oil in omega 3, but it remains the champion of vegetable oils. In fact, rapeseed oil is the most balanced of all, with a ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 of 1:2. Its very special flavor may not be to everyone’s taste, but it easily incorporates cooking and seasoning recipes. In addition, it is quite possible to mix it with other oils considered neutral, such as olive oil. This oil is a true ally of cardiovascular health.
Fish eggs are nutrient-dense. They have strong nutritional characteristics, whether they are from lean (cod), fatty (sturgeon), or semi-fatty (mullet, sturgeon, farmed salmon, and trout) fish. They are particularly rich in proteins, vitamins (particularly D), and mineral salts like phosphorus are all present.
They also contain considerable amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are sources of omega-3.
Salmon is very rich in two types of omega 3: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the precursor of which is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Various studies highlight the interest of these long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and the reduction of myocardial infarction mortality. They make it possible to thin the blood, prevent the formation of atheroma plaques in the arteries, reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels. They could also reduce the risk of dementia, mainly under the action of DHA which plays a role essential in the functioning of the brain.
By stimulating the microcirculation of the inner ear, they even prevent age-related hearing disorders as suggested by a study on 65,215 women.
This is a fish that is common in the seas of the Northern Hemisphere. It is one of the best sources of protein: it contains all nine essential amino acids for our body. These proteins play a key role in the formation of digestive enzymes, hormones, and tissues, such as skin and bones.
Furthermore, herring contains high amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, fatty acids from the omega 3 family, which have protective effects on the cardiovascular system.
These omega 3s are also said to have anti-inflammatory effects, useful in the treatment of conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
As an oily fish, tuna represents a privileged source of unsaturated omega 3 fatty acids, whose protective effects on health have been widely demonstrated. Like all fish, it is rich in quality protein, but also provides significant amounts of vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin A and provitamin A, and selenium.
Tuna provides protein and fat.
Its lipids contain a majority of polyunsaturated fatty acids and in particular, omega 3, which have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health.
Tuna also contains a significant amount of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are also beneficial for the cardiovascular system.
This fish is named after the Italian island of Sardinia, where this species was common in large numbers in the past. Sardines are very nutritious. This fish is at the beginning of the food chain and therefore contains few heavy metals.
Sardines are naturally rich in omega 3. And since they are usually eaten with their skeleton, they are also a good source of calcium.
Often canned sardines come in sunflower oil. It is best to opt for the variant in water, to keep the balance between omega 3 and 6 favorable.
Pecans look a bit like walnuts in appearance. The two are related to each other. The taste, on the other hand, is a bit different. Pecans can be eaten both raw and roasted and are a popular type of nut with a deep taste.
The pecan is a member of the walnut family and grows in countries close to the equator. The trees are natively found all over the world except in Africa and Australia. The most famous members of this family are the walnut and pecan.
The green vegetables
Spinach, Brussels sprouts, chews, lettuce, watercress, avocado, and other green vegetables… do not contain spectacular amounts of omega 3. However, when it comes to foods that we often consume in large portions, their contributions in omega 3 end up being rather interesting. Especially since green vegetables also have a thousand other virtues for the body. Do not deprive yourself of vegetables and vary them as much as possible to benefit from their benefits and the nutrients they contain. They are nutritional treasures.
Soybeans are very nutritious foods rich in fiber, vegetable protein, and essential minerals. In particular, they contain magnesium and potassium. These seeds also have high concentrations of vitamins, in particular, riboflavin, vitamin B9, or vitamin K. While it has 1443 mg of omega 3 per 100 grams of seeds, soybeans also have high levels of omega 6.
To maintain a certain balance in the omega 3/omega 6 ratio and complement the action of soybeans, it is necessary to find another source of omega 3 to combine with it. Rest assured; the plant kingdom is not lacking!
Omega-3s are fatty acids that are found to be essential for the body. Discovered a very long time ago, it is only recently that they have been scrutinized by science, which still trying to unravel all their mysteries today. These elements would not just be essential to the constitution of some of our organs, they would also be beneficial for our general health.
But just like with everything else, not all sources of omega 3 are created equal; it is important to vary the dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids. On the plant side, vegetable oils rich in omega 3 and oilseeds are the best sources of ALA. When it comes to animal products, oily fish and organic free-range chicken eggs are preferred! Always prefer quality over quantity, and make sure to vary your nutritional intake as much as possible.