Omega 3 Foods

This article discusses the Omega 3 foods and the importance of Omega 3 in our bodies.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Omega-3 Foods?

Anyone with some interest in the subject of health and fitness would have heard about the importance of Omega 3 foods and Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. But not all know what exactly they are and from what food sources can one derive them. Here is a brief synopsis of Omega-3 foods and fatty acids.

What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 (abbreviated as w-3 or n-3) fatty acids are a class of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that play a crucial role in health preservation as well as disease prevention. The name Omega-3 has to do with their chemical structure: in chemical nomenclature, the 3 refers to the position at which the first carbon´┐Żcarbon double bond appears in the carbon chain forming the fatty acids, as measured from the w end (the methyl end).

The following three Omega-3 fatty acids are nutritionally most important: ALA (alpha linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids are referred to as essential fatty acids as they must necessarily be obtained from the foods we eat, just like vitamins and minerals, because the human body is unable to synthesize these nutrients in situ from simple sugars or amino acids. Though in principle the parent w-3 fatty acid ALA can get converted to the more valuable longer-chain (i.e., more carbon atoms) omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA inside the body, the process is not quite efficient. Hence, the only way to get the recommended amounts of all the three w-3 fatty acids is through diet.

Importance of Omega 3 Foods – What Do They Do?

Omega-3 fatty acids play a multifunctional role in our body. This is how omega-3 fatty acids help in health preservation and disease prevention:

Omega 3 foods promote the formation of healthy cell membranes – the very basic requirement for proper functioning of all the organs. Healthy cell membranes also help prevent the growth of cancerous cells.

They play a vital role in the production of highly potent hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which regulate many important physiological functions like blood clotting, blood pressure, nerve transmission, inflammatory/allergic response, etc.

Omega 3 foods also provide protection against cardiovascular diseases by helping to (i) reduce blood pressure, (ii) reduce the level of bad cholesterol and triglycerides circulating in the bloodstream, (iii) decrease platelet segregation and hence prevent blood clots, and (iv) inhibit artery wall thickening.

They help reduce inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis without any side effects, unlike drugs.

They help fight obesity by improving body’s response to insulin.

Omega-3 fatty acids promote brain health and prove helpful in prevention/treatment of mental disorders like depression, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), migraine headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.

Food Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from food sources of plant as well as animal origin. Amongst the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids are vegetarian foods like flaxseeds, walnuts and cooked soybeans. Two tablespoons of flaxseeds or a quarter cup of walnuts is sufficient to supply the daily-required amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Other good plant sources are tofu, pumpkin seeds, hempseeds, dark green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, cloves, mustard seeds, kale and Brussels sprouts.

Among foods of animal origin, the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids come from the sea: cold-water fish like salmon, herring, tuna and halibut, shrimps, scallops, etc.

These days many commercially available foods like breads and cereals come fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. Though omega-3 supplements are available too, it is best to consult a doctor before taking any, especially if you have some bleeding-related problems or are on some blood-thinning medications.