Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
When it comes to fat, you don’t want to cut back on omega-3 fatty acids. Two crucial ones known as EPA and DHA are mainly found in certain fish. ALA, another omega-3 fatty acid, is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. Not only does your body need these fatty acids to function, but they also deliver many health benefits. Here are some ways omega 3 fatty acids help your health:
- Fish oil supplements with omega-3 fatty acids can lower elevated blood triglyceride levels. Having high levels of this fat in your body puts you at risk for heart disease. DHA alone has also been shown to lower triglycerides.
- Assists with rheumatoid arthritis pain. Fish oil supplements (EPA+DHA) can curb stiffness and joint pain. Omega-3 supplements also seem to boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Lowers levels of depression. Some researchers have found that cultures that eat foods with high levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. Fish oil also seems to boost the effects of antidepressants and may help the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.
- Development of healthy eyes in infants. DHA appears to be important for visual and neurological development in infants.
- Lowers inflammation in the body. A diet high in omega-3s lowers inflammation, a key component in asthma. But more studies are needed to show if fish oil supplements improve lung function or cut the amount of medication a person needs to control the condition.
- Reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Some studies show that fish oil can reduce the symptoms of ADHD in some children and improve mental skills such as thinking, remembering, and learning. But more research is needed in this area, and omega-3 supplements should not be used as a primary treatment.
- Protection against Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Some research suggests that omega-3s may help protect against Alzheimer's disease and dementia and have a positive effect on gradual memory loss linked to aging. But that's not certain yet either.
While eating more fatty fish is a good idea, some are likely to have higher levels of mercury, PCBs, or other toxins. These include mackerel, swordfish, tilefish, and shark. Children and pregnant women should avoid these fish entirely. Everyone else should eat no more than 7 ounces of these fish a week.
Smaller fish like trout and salmon are safer. Other good food sources of ALA are: walnuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, canola and soybean oil. While foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have health benefits, some like oils and nuts can be high in calories. So eat them in moderation. Small steps to include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can make a difference in your health.