You have probably heard the term good fats and bad fats being thrown around and it can be confusing differentiating between the two, however omega-3s are definitely a type of good fat that you should be including more in your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids refer to a family of essential fatty acids that play numerous important roles within the body. Our bodies do not produce these types of fats on their own and therefore we must get them from food. There are a number of different types of Omega-3 fatty acids but the three most important types are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
Not only does your body require Omega-3 fatty acids to function, but they also deliver a number of proven health benefits, including the following:
Improve eye health
DHA is a major structural component of the retina of the eye, meaning a lack of omega-3s in the diet can lead to issues with vision such as blindness . Including enough omega-3s in the diet has been linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of permanent eye damage and blindness .
Help fight depression and anxiety
Studies show that individuals who consume omega-3s regularly are at less risk of depression [3,4]. What is even more interesting is that when people who have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety start to include omega-3s in their diet, their symptoms improve . Of the three types, EPA has proven to be the most beneficial in fighting depression .
Help promote brain health in early life
Omega-3s play a crucial role in infant brain development. Similarly to the retina, DHA contributes greatly to the structural component of the brain and is used in preference to any other of the fatty acids . Consuming enough DHA in pregnancy has been associated with a number of benefits for the infant including decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy, decreased risk of developmental delay, higher intelligence and better communication and social skills. [8, 9]
Improve heart health
Omega-3s are proven to be very beneficial towards heart health. Incorporating more in the diet has been shown to lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure and increase HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). Omega-3s can also prevent blood platelets from clumping together and forming harmful blood clots. Similarly they help prevent plaque that can build up within arteries causing restrictions and hardening.
May help fight age related mental decline
Despite more research needed in this area, a number of preliminary studies have shown that a higher Omega-3 intake is associated with a decreased rate of age related mental decline and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, particularly when used in the early stages [10,11].
How to include more Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet
Guidelines recommending the amount of omega-3s we need each day have been developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The guidelines state that to lower the risk of chronic disease men should be consuming 610mg of Omega-3 Fatty acids a day and women 430mg/day . Getting your omega-3s from wholefood sources is the best way to ensure optimal levels of omega-3s. Great sources of EPA and DHA fatty acids are oily fish such as salmon, anchovies and mackerel while good sources of ALA are walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil and soybeans. Keep in mind that Wild caught fish have higher levels of omega-3s then farmed and pregnant women should avoid fish with high levels of mercury such as mackerel, tuna and swordfish.
Should I take a supplement?
Eating fatty fish 2-3 times a week is the easiest way to meet Omega-3 recommendations. This provides around 250-500mg of EPA and DHA per day. For those who don’t eat fatty fish or seafood it may be worth considering a supplement. Fish oil and krill oil supplements are best as they contain both EPA and DHA. A typical fish oil capsule obtainable at most pharmacies contains 180 mg of EPA, 120 mg of DHA and a total of 300 mg per capsule. Alternatively, vegetarians and vegans might want to try taking a DHA supplement made from algae. Ensure that you always consult your doctor or dietitian prior to supplementing as there may be contraindications depending on your health and if you are taking other medications.
1. Lim, L. S., Mitchell, P., Seddon J.M., Holz, F.G., Wong T.Y. (2012). Age Related Macular-Degeneration. Lancet, 379(9827), 1728-38.
2. Grosso, G., Galvano, F., Marventano, S., Malaguarnera, M., Bucolo, C., Drago, F., Caraci, F. (2014). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression: Scientific Evidence and Biological Mechanisms. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 313570.
3. Lin, P.Y., Su, K.P. (2007). A meta-analytic review of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressant efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68(7), 1056-61.
4. Osher, Y., Belmaker, R.H. (2009). Omega-3 fatty acids in depression: a review of three studies. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 15(2), 128-33.
5. Mozaffari-Khosravi, H., Yassini-Ardakani, M., Karamati, M., Shariati-Bafghi, S.E. (2012). Eicosapentaenoic acid versus docosahexaenoic acid in mild-to-moderate depression: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 23(7), 636-44.
6. Horrocks L.A., Yeo, Y.K. (1999). Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacological Research, 40(3), 211-25.
7. Helland, I.B., Smith, L., Saarem, K., Saugstad, O.D., Drevon, C.A. (2003). Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics, 111(1), e39-44.
8. Judge, M.P., Harel, O., Lammi-Keefe, C.J. (2007). Maternal consumption of a docosahexaenoic acid-containing functional food during pregnancy: benefit for infant performance on problem-solving but not on recognition memory tasks at age 9 mo. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(6), 1572-7.
9. Strickland, A.D. (2014). Prevention of cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Medical Hypothesises, 82(5), 522-8.
10. Mohajeri, M.H., Troesch, B., Weber P. (2015). Inadequate supply of vitamins and DHA in the elderly: implications for brain aging and Alzheimer-type dementia. Nutrition, 31(2), 261-75.
11. Freund-Levi, Y., Eriksdotter-Jönhagen, M., Cederholm, T., Basun, H., Faxén-Irving, G., Garlind, A., Vedin, I., Vessby, B., Wahlund, LO., Palmblad, J. (2006). Omega-3 fatty acid treatment in 174 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease: OmegAD study: a randomized double-blind trial. Archives Neurology, 63(10), 1402-8.
12. NHMRC. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. n-3 and n-6 fatty acids. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2006. (accessed 24 May 2014).