Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

When it comes to fats, it’s important to remember that not all fats are created equal and, yes, there is such as a thing as a good fat. “Good” fats are essential to health, supporting many bodily functions. These “good” fats include polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. Registered dietitian Sarah Downs gives us the scoop on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and why we should be including them in our diets.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA and ALA.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found mainly in fish and are sometimes called marine omega-3s. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, and is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables and some animal fat, especially grass-fed animals. The human body generally uses ALA for energy, and conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited. While the human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials, this isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats because the body can’t make them and we must get them from food.

What are the health benefits of including omega-3 fatty acids in a balanced diet?

Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function. Likely due to these effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.

What foods are omega-3 fatty acids found in?

Fatty fishes like salmon, albacore tuna (both fresh and canned), sardines, lake trout and mackerel, walnuts, soybeans, chia seeds, seaweed and all vegetable oils.

Start incorporating more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet with these tasty recipes:

Sweet Glazed Salmon with Peach Salsa, The Cookie Rookie

Lemony Smoked Trout Dip, Bon Appetit

Berry Chia Overnight Oats, Pinch of Yum

Cilantro-Lime Sardine Salad in Avocado Halves, The Kitchn

Sour Cream and Onion Tuna Noodle Casserole, The Pioneer Woman

What is your favorite food source of omega-3 fatty acids?

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