The Power of Fish: Why You Need Omega-3s
When is the last time you had fish for dinner? Fish is among the healthiest foods on the planet. It is loaded with important nutrients, such as protein and vitamin D. Fish is also the world’s best source of omega-3 fatty acids.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat the body cannot make on its own. They are an essential fat, which means they are needed to survive. The body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.
Omega-3s and Inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids have amazing anti-inflammatory properties. This goes beyond the acute inflammation of my “my knee is swollen” following a workout. I am talking about chronic inflammation like joint pain, heart disease and autoimmune conditions (asthma, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc).
Omega-3 fatty acids get burned up pretty quickly when we are inflamed or under stress, which can cause other problems like the body’s immune system attacking itself.
Omega-3s Make Us Smarter
Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for brain cells because they provide energy and make up membranes of the cells.
Healthier and happier brain cells means better brain development and function, including memory. Research shows that low DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) consumption is associated with memory loss, difficulty concentrating, Alzheimer’s disease, and other mood problems.
Omega-3s Make Us Leaner
Omega-3 fatty acids can improve insulin sensitivity and make our bodies better at using stored body fat for energy, which both add up to a leaner physique.
How much Omega-3 Do I Need?
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults consume at least eight ounces of seafood per week. This works out to be two four-ounce servings of fish.
Remember though, this is the minimum.
You should really be shooting for 12-16 ounces per week of oily fish such as wild salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring, and farmed trout.
What If I Don’t Like Fish?
For individuals who follow vegetarian or vegan diets, all is not lost. Ground flax seed, walnuts, and chia seeds are a few vegetarian sources for omega-3 fatty acids.
While foods are your best bet for getting omega-3 in your diet, fish oil supplements are available for those that who do not like fish or for us who live in the Midwest that may be limited in options of good quality (fresh) fish.
Anything you’re choosing a supplement, quality is important.
Fish oil can easily be rancid, thus full of oxidative fatty acids, which actually boosts inflammation and oxidative stress. Taking cheap fish oil is worse then not taking any.
- Aim for three to nine daily grams of total fish oil (about one to three grams of EPA + DHA) per day. Remember: one gram is 1,000 milligrams; two grams are 2,000 milligrams. Be aware that these numbers are almost never listed on the front of the label.
- Look for small-fish-based formulations (e.g. herring, mackerel). Small fish are lower on the food chain and less likely to accumulate environmental toxins. Or choose krill oil or algae oil.
- Be sure your brand is tested for pesticides and heavy metals.
- Avoid cod liver oil.
- Look for a quality seal of the US Pharmacopeia, third party testing, or the Global Health Organization for EPA and DHA testing.
Regardless of whether you opt for an omega-3 supplement, you should always strive to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. No dietary supplement is a substitute.