Omega-3 fats belong to the family of essential polyunsaturated fats. They are called “essential” because they are necessary for the body’s development. Because the body cannot make them, we must get them through food.
Sources of omega-3
Marine sources of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid):
- Red or white tuna
Vegetable sources of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid):
- Oil (flax, canola, walnut, soybean)
- Flax seeds and hemp seeds
Eating omega-3 fats from fish sources is particularly beneficial for cardiovascular health:
- Lowers blood triglycerides
- Lowers the risk of blood clots that can block blood vessels
- Reduces the risk of sudden death from cardiac arrest
- Helps protect arterial walls
- Helps prevent cardiac arrhythmia
- Lowers blood pressure
- Has an anti-inflammatory effect
The cardiovascular health benefits are mainly attributed to omega-3 fats from fatty fish (EPA and DHA). Although it is true that the body can make EPA and DHA from vegetable sources of omega-3 fats (ALA), this conversion is limited (between 0.5% and 9%). Fatty fish is therefore the best source of omega-3 fats. That being said, the ALAs can help meet your daily omega-3 requirements.
How much should you eat?
To obtain health benefits from omega-3 fats, the American Heart Association recommends:
- eating at least two meals per week of fatty fish (a cooked serving of 3.5 oz – 100 g)
- adding vegetables rich in ALA (canola oil, walnut oil, soybean oil, etc.)
Here are a few tips to help you maximize your intake of omega-3 fats:
- Check flyers for weekly specials on fish.
- Think lunch! Extra servings of salmon or trout are delicious cold, in a sandwich or salad.
- For a quick meal, serve herring, canned mackerel or canned sardines with crackers, along with sliced raw vegetables.
- Use primarily canola oil or soybean oil.
- Add 15 ml (1 tbsp.) of ground flax or hemp seeds to yogurt, soups, salads, muffin batter or breakfast cereals.
- Add a few walnuts to yogurt, salads or breakfast cereals.
What about supplements?
Omega-3 fats in the form of fish oil capsules should be taken only under medical supervision because they can cause side effects. Getting your omega-3 fats from fish instead of supplements also helps you reduce your meat consumption. Fish provides highly nutritious protein, minerals like selenium, and antioxidants. These health-protecting nutrients are not found in a simple omega-3 supplement.