You’ve probably heard good stuff about omega-3 fatty acids. But when it comes to the science-y stuff, maybe you’re in the dark (we were!). We asked our Head Nutritionist, Brooke Scheller, to help break down the facts in ways we could understand.
Why are Omega-3 fatty acids all the rage?
Healthy sources of dietary fat are a huge part of a well-balanced diet. Fats are used to:
- • Stimulate proper cell health (all of our cells that make up our body are surrounded by a lipid layer)
- • Help absorb certain vitamins (like A, D, E, and K)
- • Promote healthy skin and joints
- • Support brain health (our brains are made up of 60% fat!)
Omega-3 is one of our “essential” fatty acids, which means that our body doesn’t manufacture it on its own so we have to take it in through our diet.
Omega 3s in particular have been associated with several specific health benefits, like helping to reduce inflammation, supporting the cardiovascular system, and promoting overall brain and neurological function.
There are a bunch of omega-3s. Which ones do we need to know about?
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
There are 3 forms of omega-3s found in different food sources.
Where can we find them exactly?
EPA and DHA are found mostly in wild, cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, shrimp, flounder, and trout (among others). These two types of omega-3s have been associated with many of the brain and cardiovascular benefits related to healthy fats. These types are high in fish because they come from algae—that’s why algae oil supplements have become a popular plant-based alternative to fish and fish oils.
DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fat in the brain, making up 90% of the total omega content of the brain and 15-20% of the brain’s total lipid content.
The third form of omega-3 is ALA, which is found in plant-based omega-3 sources like chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, flaxseed, canola, and many other nuts and seeds. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but it requires larger amounts to do so.
Omega 3 v. Omega 6: What’s the diff?
Omega-3s are known to be more anti-inflammatory, while omega 6s are known to be pro-inflammatory. Omega-6s are found in vegetable oils and ultra-processed food, and since processed food currently makes up over 60% of the standard American diet, many people are taking in too many.
One of the most important things to focus on when it comes to essential fatty acids is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. The standard American diet tends to be very rich in sources of omega-6 fats and deficient in adequate sources of omega-3s—this ratio has been reported to be as high as 10:1 to 20:1, while recommendations promote a balance closer to 4:1 or 2:1.
Moral of the story?
More omega-3s=great. Fewer omega-6s=even better.