Omega 3 fats: What they are & how to meet your needs
Fat is one of the 3 key macronutrients and it is vital in your diet for overall good health – every cell in your body needs it and it is a key source of energy.
Fats, importantly, also make foods taste great. Most importantly, they provide you with essential fats (omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids) that your body is unable to produce on its own. Omega fats are essential for a wide range of biological functions and are associated with a number of health benefits.
If you’re looking to get the facts on omega 3 facts, you’re in the right place. In this article, our in-house nutritionist talks all things fat, omega 3s and how to meet your needs on any diet – with or without the help of Purition.
What are omega fats?
Omega 3 and 6 fats are important types of polyunsaturated fat. Your body can't make these on its own, so they must come from your diet.
Omega 6 is found in vegetable oil sources such as rapeseed, corn, sunflower and some nuts. The main essential omega 6 fat is called linoleic acid (LA).
Most people eating a regular diet already tend to have enough (sometimes too much) of this already.
Foods high in beneficial omega 3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts (especially walnuts), as well as fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.
The 3 main omega 3 fats are:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
EPA and DHA are readily found in fish and algae sources (the actual source where fish get their omega 3 from!).
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, your main source of Omega 3 comes from ALA. ALA is actually the most common omega 3 fat and it is found in plant food sources such as nuts and seeds.
Why does the body need fats & omega 3 fats?
Your body needs dietary fats for numerous different biological processes. Healthy omega 3 fats are an important source of energy and are needed for maintaining the structure of your cells, heart, brain and eyes. In fact, they’re key to the structure of every cell wall you have!
Omega 3 fats – and ‘healthy’ fats in general – are also beneficial for:
1. Brain health
The human brain is nearly 60% fat, with DHA being the the most abundant. Omega 3 essential fats EPA and DHA are important in forming the structure of the brain cell. They also have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory benefits!
According to the National Institute of Health, some (but not all) research shows that people who consume more omega 3 fats may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other problems with cognitive function.
2. Hormonal health
Omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in hormonal health as they are needed for both the production and function of hormones.
Omega 3, in essence, serve as the building blocks for hormones that are involved in the regulation of inflammation, blood clotting and also for steroid hormones (such as testosterone and oestrogen).
That's why it is vital to consume adequate amounts of Omega 3 fats, so that not only we can produce hormones but that those hormones can function well.
3. Nutrient absorption
Most nutrients are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water. But certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, D E and K, are fat-soluble. This means that you need to consume them with a source of fat in order to absorb them properly.
MUFAs (monounsaturated fats) and PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats) have also been shown to influence satiety and appear to regulate appetite through several mechanisms, including the release of appetite hormones (such as CKK – cholecystokinin) and by the inhibition of gastric emptying and intestinal transit.
Put simply, this means that healthy fats take longer to digest and keep you satiated for longer – which leads to more sustained energy levels after a meal and throughout the day.
Omega 3 fats have potent anti-inflammatory properties and are needed for appropriate immune response in your body.
Some of these effects are because omega 3 are precursors to compounds called eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are involved in immune response and play an important role in the regulation of inflammation, so having adequate amounts of omega 3 our diet is so important for reducing the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases.
For example, omega 3 fatty acids also help reduce the concentrations of inflammatory signalling molecules (cytokines) that could otherwise increase the build up of plaque on arterial walls (and ultimately increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease).
6. Skin health
Healthy fats are some of the vital building blocks for the cells that make up our skin barrier. Eating enough of them will help strengthen the cell membranes and provide a healthier skin barrier. This means less dry skin which, in turn, can retain water better, resulting in more hydrated skin.
As omega 3 fats can also help reduce inflammation, they may also offer benefits to help to maintain the skin’s resilience against harmful ultraviolet rays from sunlight.
How much fat and omega 3 do I need?
People are often afraid of fat. But health authorities (BDA/NHS) recommend that around a third of your daily should come from fat, the majority of which should be from unsaturated sources:
- Aim to eat around 70-90g of fat per day (70g fat per day for an adult female and 90g per day for an adult male)
- Aim to have approximately 20-30g of saturated fat per day (the upper limit representing the needs for men)
Although there is no NRV (Nutrient Reference Value) set for omega 3 fats, the recommendation is to get approximately 250mg of combined long-chain omega 3 fats (EPA and DHA) per day for their health benefits.
How can I meet my omega 3 needs?
It’s easy! Just aim for a serving of healthy fat per meal. One of the best sources is oily fish, so if it suits your dietary preferences, try to eat it at least twice per week. According to the BDA, the best fish and seafood sources of omega 3 include:
If you can’t/don’t eat fish, don’t worry – there are other dietary sources of omega 3s for you to consider. These include:
- Unprocessed quality meats
- Quality dairy sources
- Olive oil
- Nuts, especially walnuts
- Seeds, especially flax & chia
A special note for vegans & vegetarians
As you don't consume fish, your main source of omega 3 comes from ALA. ALA is actually the most common omega 3 fat and is found in plant food sources such as nuts and seeds.
After consumption, ALA is converted into EPA and DHA. However, this conversion process is inefficient in humans. On average, only 1–10% of ALA is converted into EPA and 0.5–5% into DHA.
Because ALA is not easily converted to DHA and EPA (the active forms), the EFSA and FAO recommends consuming approximately 2g of ALA everyday to achieve an adequate omega 3 intake.
This could be as simple as…
- A tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax seeds
- 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds
- Six walnut halves
- Using rapeseed, avocado or olive oils for cooking
You might also consider an algae-oil supplement to reach your DHA and EPA requirements. Fish actually obtain EPA and DHA by eating algae, so you’re just going straight to the source. Studies show that it’s just as effective as cod liver oil supplements.
Use Purition to meet your omega 3 needs
If you already use Purition, you’re ahead of the game with your omega 3 requirements.
Purition is an extremely rich source of healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats as it is a recipe of nuts and seeds such as almonds, golden linseed, sunflower kernels, chia seeds, coconut & pumpkin seeds.
A 40g serving of Purition provides an approximate amount of 1.85g ALA. That means that a single serving per day provides over 90% of your daily ALA needs – a fantastic source of omega 3 fat to support a healthy diet for anyone!
You can use Purition to make a healthy breakfast in seconds – think smoothies, yoghurt bowls, porridge bowls and more. It’s high in protein, rich in fibre and packed with omega 3s to help you meet your needs!
Feel healthier, be healthier and lose weight (if you need to) – get started with any 7 sachets for £17.80!
Are all fats made equal?
It’s important to know that fats are not all equally beneficial for your health. There are healthier and less healthy sources.
Fats can differ in many ways, but the key differences come down to the length of the molecules (short-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids and long-chain fatty acids…) and the number of the double bonds (saturated, mono- or polyunsaturated fats). It’s these properties that determine their functionality in foods and how they impact your health.
Mono- and polyunsaturated fat (including essential omega fats) are known for their health benefits and although saturated fats were deemed unhealthy decades ago, this theory has since been disproven.
In fact, saturated fats in quality, minimally processed and unprocessed whole foods – in moderation – are a beneficial part of your diet. However, highly processed/ultra-processed foods contain poor quality saturated fats and are best avoided.
It’s also important to be aware of ‘trans fats’, which are known for their adverse effect on heart health. They’re made via an industrial procedure called ‘partial hydrogenation’ and can be present in highly processed foods like biscuits, cakes and fast foods. Thankfully, the UK government requires that manufacturers reduce the amount added to food.
Trans fats are only present at very low levels in whole foods.
The bottom line
No matter what your diet type, it’s best to focus on consuming quality fats from whole food sources.
So load your cupboard with nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, oily fish, quality unprocessed meats, eggs and also include some dairy (not low fat) products such as Greek style yoghurt and cheese, if you can.
This will naturally mean that you consume more of the mono- and polyunsaturated (omega 3) fats, slightly less saturated fats and avoid trans fats for a healthier, more balanced diet.
Article written by Barbara Usak, Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr), BSc Human nutrition and PGDip Clinical & Public Health Nutrition.
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