Omega 3 can keep your mind sharp and your heart healthy – says our nutritional therapist in the know
I’m sure you’ve heard of essential, or good, fats; they’re deemed essential as we have to get them from our diet, but of all the dietary fats, it’s omega 3 that stands out for its versatility and importance in human health. We know that omega 3 plays an important role in promoting heart health as it can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood clotting. It can also help maintain eyesight, foetal and early development and may also help in supporting cognitive function, including behavioral issues, depression and even dementia and memory loss. Omega 3 also discourages inflammation so can – to some extent – offset insulin resistance, asthma and menstrual pain.
But omega 3 isn’t one fat – there are three different forms of it: alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts (among other nuts and seeds) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are found in high concentrations in oily fish, such as mackerel, sardines and herring, as well as other marine foods.
There isn’t a suggested daily amount, like there is with vitamins and minerals, but I feel that, ideally, we should be having some foods that contain omega 3 every day. It is quite plentiful, so much so that 28g of walnuts contain around 2500mg, while the same serving of flaxseeds offers a generous 6300mg. If you like oily fish, then 100g of tinned sardines has 1500mg of omega 3, 100g of smoked salmon has 500mg, fresh salmon contains 1200mg and there is 1400mg in 100g of mackerel.
Vegan and vegetarian sources generally have a higher concentration of omega 3 fats than oily fish. However, while all three types are beneficial, much of the research into the benefits of omega 3 fats indicates that EPA and DHA have a slight edge over ALA – the type found in food sources that are suitable for a plant-based diet.
But what about supplements? Unless we eat a generous portion of an omega 3-rich food every day then it may be advisable to take 500-1000mg of omega 3 on days that we don’t have any. Most of our intake tends to come from fish, but vegans and vegetarians should take a supplement derived from marine algae as it will contain EPA, DHA as well as ALA.
A word of warning though: omega 3 fats help blood pressure and may reduce clotting by effectively thinning the blood and so should not be taken if you are taking medication with the same role, such as Warfarin or aspirin. Moreover, taking large amounts in supplement form, say 2000mg or more on a daily basis, can increase the possibility of bleeding and bruising, and may affect wound healing, so take appropriate professional advice before undertaking a course of supplements.
Ian is one of the UK’s top nutritional therapists (ianmarber.com). Manfood by Ian Marber (£13.99, Little Brown) is available from Amazon.
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