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What’s the big deal about omega-3 fats? Well, one important thing is that they are essential fatty acids (EFA)—something your body needs but can’t make on its own. You get them from the foods you eat and in all reality, you probably aren’t getting enough.
What do omega-3s do?
Research shows that omega-3s are important in many aspects of health, particularly in supporting brain and heart health. Not getting enough of this powerful nutrient can be problematic as it can lead to many interruptions in optimal health. Common signs of an insufficient intake of omega-3s include, fatigue, poor memory, mood swings, dry skin, as well as many others.
Omega-3 EFAs come in three varieties:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), usually found in fish.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), usually found in nuts, seeds, leafy veggies, and vegetable oils.
Most of us get more ALA and not as much EPA and DHA from the foods we eat. However, research shows that we need more EPA and DHA to maintain good health.
Your body uses omega-3s to:
- Provide energy
- Construct cell membranes
- Help produce important signaling molecules
- Help regulate fat metabolism
- Build hormones that regulate blood and blood vessel function
- Help brain functions like learning and memory
- Protect against oxidative stress
- Help the heart function normally
- Support eye health
Omega-3 and omega-6
The standard American diet is full of fats, but you need the ones that are most beneficial to your health—EFAs like omega-3 and omega-6. These two EFAs have opposing effects in the body, and you need both of them. They perform a complicated dance that keeps your body in balance. The ratio of these EFAs in your diet is important—optimally 4:1, meaning that you get 4 omega-6s for every 1 omega-3. But our diet skews heavily toward omega-6, with the average American eating a ratio of anywhere from 12:1 or 25:1. Anti-aging experts say we should eat even more omega-3s, lobbying for a ratio of 1:1 or even eating more omega-3s than omega-6s.
The Mediterranean diet is considered to have a healthy balance between omega-6 and omega-3, and some studies have shown that following this diet of whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, fish, olive oil, and garlic is good for the heart.
How much do I need?
Many mainstream organizations recommend a minimum of 250-500mg of omega-3 each day, ensuring a balance of EPA and DHA. The FDA recommends not exceeding 3,000mg per day as, currently, there is no evidence to support that more than this amount is helpful. Somewhere between 500mg and 3,000mg per day is likely a reasonable dosage for you and is achievable through diet alone. That said, if you do not eat fish regularly, a source rich in omega-3s, it might be a good idea to consider a supplement. For those of you not already taking an omega-3 supplement, be sure to touch base with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement.