The Science Bit
Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), of which there are three main types; alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is an essential fatty acid, meaning your body cannot produce it, so it must be consumed from your diet. Your body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA, but only in very small amounts. Therefore, getting EPA and DHA from foods and supplements if required, is the only practical way to increase levels of these omega-3 fatty acids in your body.
The Benefits Of Omega-3
Omega-3s contribute to the membranes that surround each cell in your body. DHA levels are especially high in retina, brain, and sperm cells. These essential fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and vital for injury recovery. They also benefit heart health, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, endocrine system, joint health and reduce cholesterol.
What Are The Best Sources Of Omega-3?
A huge percentage of my clients are not fans of fish, so when I tell a person there isn’t enough omega-3 in their diet, panic usually ensues… because everybody associates omega-3 with salmon or fish oil capsule supplements. But the truth is, we can get omega-3 (and importantly the three types - ALA, EPA and DHA) through a variety of sources - and we should be! My advice is always to eat a varied diet, so rather than sticking to just one source of a micro-nutrient, we should be aiming to get it through many sources as part of a balanced diet. Sources include (but are not limited to):
Salmon, mackerel, seabass, sardines, trout, kippers, cod, tuna,
Seaweed, nori, spirulina, chlorella
Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds
Edamame, soy beans, kidney beans,
Flaxseed oil, soybean oil, rapeseed oil
Brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach
Fortified foods (such as certain brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, soy beverages)
What Is The Recommended Intake?
You should always check the government RDA for your country but by rule of thumb, 2-4% of our nutritional needs should come from essential fatty acids. For the average person I would advise trying to include one portion of fatty fish (such as a salmon fillet) per week, and certainly double this for an athlete whose recovery requirements are higher.
That said, as you can see from the list above, you can incorporate it in smaller amounts throughout your day. If you already make porridge, start adding in a tablespoon of chia seeds and/or flaxseeds. Serve up your main meals with a healthy portion of greens. Dress salads with a little rapeseed oil, and sprinkle over a few pumpkin seeds for added crunch. Snack on walnuts. You’ll get a steady intake without even having to look a fish in the eye!
Concerned about deficiency? If you think you are already consuming enough but are deficient, your body’s ability to absorb nutrients may need addressing. Supplementation can also be looked at, but this should be strategised and paired correctly to maximise effectiveness. I advise clients on both of these topics so be sure to mention it in your next check-in or contact me to discuss your needs.
Thanks for reading,