Although media stories may try to convince us otherwise, there’s no reason to fear fats, which give us long-lasting energy and satisfaction, along with a whole slew of additional wellness benefits.
I talked a lot about the importance of dietary fats in my recent live nutrition Q&A and afterwards realized that I haven’t given as much attention to this important nutrient within my blog. Fellow registered dietitian Jessica Cording is here to kick things off with information on one essential fat that we might not be getting enough of – the omega 3 fats. Take it away, Jess!
Omega-3’s are a polyunsaturated fatty acid that are key to many body processes. They make up part of the cell membrane and are involved in the functioning of the cell receptors in those membranes. They’ve also been shown to play a role in genetic function as well as in the production of hormones that regulate blood clots, contraction of artery walls, and inflammation.
Because inflammation is linked to many diseases and ailments, omega-3’s have been touted for their role in the prevention and management of conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol and overall dyslipidemia
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides
- Depression and other psychiatric conditions
- Rheumatoid arthritis
There are three main types of omega-3’s:
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA):
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA):
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA):
This 18-carbon fatty acid can be converted into EPA and DHA. ALA is mainly used by the body for energy. However, it should be noted that the process is not incredibly efficient and may be impacted by a wide range of factors such as stress, smoking, certain diseases, consuming an imbalance of other types of fat (primarily trans and saturated fats), and individual metabolic issues like an impaired enzymes. Gram for gram, you may need more ALA than you would EPA or DHA.
While the body can make most of the fats it needs from raw materials or other types of fat, omega-3 fatty acids are an exception. They’re called “essential” fats because we need to get them from food.
Omega-3’s During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
As with many nutrients, the amount of omega-3’s you need changes over time. For example, during pregnancy, needs are increased in order to support fetal brain development, and they continue to be increased during lactation to help support ensure that the baby’s brain continues to grow and develop at an appropriate rate.
Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats
Foods high in Omega-3 include:
- Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, etc)
- Shellfish( oysters, crab, shrimp, etc)
- Fish oil (cod liver oil, krill oil, etc)
- Vegetable oils (ex: Canola oil, soy oil)
- Nuts (especially walnuts)
- Flax seeds and flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
- Leafy vegetables like spinach, Chinese broccoli, and cauliflower
- Grass-fed meat (lamb, beef, etc)
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least two 6-ounce portions of fish each week to help you meet your needs. Fish oil supplements are another popular option for people who don’t like fish (check with your dietitian before starting). For individuals who don’t consume fish or other animal products, flaxseed oil may help boost your omega-3 intake.
Though it may require more planning to get enough omega-3s in your diet on a plant-based diet, spreading your intake through the day can help.
Here are just a few examples of how to fit plant sources of omega-3s into your day:
- Add chia seeds to a smoothie
- Make chia pudding for a sweet breakfast or dessert
- Toss walnuts into a salad
- Grind nuts into a hummus or bean spread
- Stir ground flax into yogurt
- Add ground flax to oatmeal
- Use almond flour to crust tofu
- Use almond flour, ground flax, and chia seeds in baked goods
- Spread homemade walnut butter on toast or eat with sliced fruit
- Add pecans or pine nuts to a grain dish
- Use flaxseed or walnut oil to make salad dressing
These are just a few of the many ways good nutrition can be a delicious way to nourish your body. Don’t be afraid to get creative!Are you getting enough omega-3's? Get all the plant-based details hereClick To Tweet
Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and writer with a passion for helping others experience a happier, calmer life through drama-free healthy eating. Through her writing, consulting, public speaking and counseling, she works with individuals, food companies, private healthcare companies, and the media to help make delicious, nourishing food approachable and enjoyable.