When my mom first told me she was taking fish oil supplements a few years ago, I thought she fell for some new dieting gimmick. Swallowing capsules that smelled (and tasted!) like fish seemed like the furthest thing from a healthy habit. It turns out, though, that this wasn’t a fad at all. My mom was onto something, and soon I was asking her for fish oil supplement recommendations.
Omega-3s and your health
The reason people take fish oil supplements is because of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential fats that your body needs. These nutrients are unsaturated fats, which means they’re the healthy kind of fats.
Studies show that omega-3s reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can damage your blood vessels, which can eventually lead to heart disease. The benefits of these super nutrients don’t stop with heart disease prevention, though. Research also shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, boost your immune system, ward off arthritis, lower the risk of some cancers, improve memory, and help visual and neurological development in babies when a woman takes them during pregnancy. Other studies show that the benefits of omega-3s may even go further than that. Preliminary research says that omega-3s may help with weight loss, asthma, diabetes, depression and ADHD, just to name a few conditions.
Types of omega-3s
So, how can you make sure you’re getting enough of this vital nutrient? Our bodies can’t make omega-3s, so you have to take them in through food or supplements. There are three kind of omega-3s:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Apha-linolenic acid (ALA). Small amounts of ALA are converted into EPA and DHA during digestion.
Sources of omega-3s
The best sources of EPA and DHA are fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, lake trout, sardines, and sturgeon. Algae also contains EPA and DHA. ALA is found in vegetable oils, including soybean, olive, canola, and flaxseed oils, soybeans, flaxseeds, walnuts, and dark green vegetables, like spinach, kale, and Brussels sprouts.
Experts say you should aim to eat one source of omega-3s each day, making sure to take in two servings per week of fatty fish. It’s best to eat a variety of foods rich in omega-3s to ensure you’re getting an adequate amount of each type of omega-3. Grill a piece of salmon for dinner, top your salad with a handful of walnuts, add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your oatmeal, and use canola or olive oil when cooking or baking.
It’s also important to balance your intake of omega-3s with your intake of omega-6s. This is because some omega-6s promote inflammation, while omega-3s reduce it. An equal balance of both of these nutrients may be best for health. But it’s not as crucial to pay attention to omega-6s as omega-3s because many of us meet our omega-6s need without even trying. In fact, most Americans eat more than 10 times the amount of omega-6s as omega-3s. Omega-6s are found in corn oils, meats, and processed foods.
About that fish oil
Note that best source of omega-3s is fish. Eating fish is vital to your health because EPA and DHA have been found to have more nutritional benefits than ALA. However, if you’re a vegetarian or don’t like seafood, ask your doctor if it’s OK for you to take supplements to get in your omega-3s.
Look for a supplement containing 500mg of omega-3s and take it daily. Note that high doses of fish oil can cause indigestion and gas, and it may interfere with certain blood pressure and blood thinning medicines. And beware that certain fish oil supplements taste particularly fishy… don’t say I didn’t warn you!