We often hear about omega 3s when talking about food and nutrition. But what exactly are they and why are they so good for us? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer tells us why omega 3s are so important and amazingly beneficial for our health.
There are two types of omega fats; polyunsaturated alpha linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6). Both are called essential fatty acids or EFA’s because the body cannot make them, so they need to be eaten regularly in the diet.
When omega-3s are consumed, they follow a metabolic pathway in the body and form ‘active’ fatty acids called EPA and DHA, both of which are essential for many body systems including cognition, neurological functioning, joint health, growth and development. Fish and fish oils provide the best dietary sources.
For many years fish and fish oils have been positively linked to great heart health; this was first recognised among Greenland’s Inuit population whose diets comprised a high intake of dietary omega 3’s from seals, whales and other fish. Since then, many hundreds of studies have been carried out confirming their benefits.
Fish oil appears to be protective of the heart, particularly in people who have already experienced a cardiac event. Fish oil also has a blood thinning effect, therefore minimises the risk of blood clots as well as reducing fats in the blood, making cholesterol build-up less likely.
EPA and DHA are especially important for the brain, where they appear to help brain cells to grow and regenerate, which is great news for keeping the brain healthy. Their brain-loving effects also extend to improving concentration and behaviour particularly in children, and have also been associated with a reduction in depressive illnesses as well as maintaining sharp cognitive function.
These fatty acids are major components of the brain; 15% of brain growth occurs during infancy, hence why intake of DHA in particular is encouraged during pregnancy and in the first few years of a child’s life.
Omega 3’s have an anti-inflammatory effect throughout the whole body, which can also exert positive effects for the skin, particularly in cases of inflammatory-based conditions such as eczema. The key to healthy skin is having sufficient EFAs as well as good levels of protein; the skin is largely made up of collagen, which is itself a protein.
Eating sufficient protein from meat, eggs, dairy, or soya and other vegetable sources if you’re vegetarian, alongside omega 3’s is the best way to support your skin. Collagen itself can also be applied topically and this becomes even more effective when there are sufficient omega 3’s in the body.
And, if that’s not enough, omega 3’s are also great for the hormones, joints and eyes!
Oily fish contains the highest amounts of EPA and DHA; salmon, mackerel, sardines, and to some extent, tuna are the best options. If you don’t like fish, or don’t eat it regularly, then definitely opt for a fish oil supplement. Vegetarians can still enjoy the benefits of Omega 3’s with flaxseeds being one of the best sources. These essential fats should ideally be eaten on a daily basis – they really are one of the keys to a healthy mind and body.