You may have heard about omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) on the news, but don’t know exactly what they are or what they do. Omega-3 PUFAs is a nutrient that is found in plant sources and fish. Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids for normal metabolic function, however you are not able to create it. That is why it is so important that you eat foods that have this form of fatty acid.
Omega-3’s actually come in three forms, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). In your diet you are probably consuming more ALA, since that is the form found in most of our foods. Your body needs all three forms for energy and to perform normal body functions.
The amount of fatty acid that your body needs depends on numerous factors such as age, sex and past medical history. People with a history of cardiovascular events may benefit from a higher omega-3 intake compared to someone with no history of heart disease. Additionally, men have a higher recommended intake than women. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women have a slightly higher intake requirement than a non-pregnant women who is the same age.
National Institute of Health recommended daily ALA intake:
- Teen boys 14-18 years 6 g
- Teen girls 14-18 years 1 g
- Men 6 g
- Women 1 g
- Pregnant teens and women 4 g
- Breastfeeding teens and women 3 g
Omega-3’s and Your Health
Lately, scientists have been exploring properties of this nutrient and its effect on numerous chronic diseases and ailments. Research has not been able to support claims that omega-3 fatty acids are able to prevent heart disease, however a recent study found that they may be able to help with feelings of anxiety. In a recent systemic review of current research, scientists found that people who had taken an omeg-3 supplement had reduced feelings of anxiety over time.
Although this study looked at the benefits that supplements of omega-3 has on people, I encourage people to eat a whole diet to meet their body needs. There are many plant and animal sources that have adequate amounts of omega-3’s. Some forms of omega-3’s mentioned earlier are added to foods as well, so make sure to look at the nutrition label!
Great Food Sources of Omega-3 PUFA
- Nuts and Seeds. It is recommended that a person consumes about 4-5 servings per week. Walnuts (1/3 cup), hemp seeds ( 2Tbsp.) and flaxseeds (2 Tbsp.) are all great sources of omega-3s and are full of other nutrients like vitamin E.
- Fish: If you have heard about omega-3’s, odds are you know that fish are an excellent source. Fatty fish such as salmon (3 oz.) and mackerel (3 oz.) are some of the best sources for PUFAs. It is recommended that you intake about 2-3 servings of fish per week.
- Seaweed: If you are a vegetarian or do not like fish, seaweed is a great alternative source for PUFAs. Seaweed contains both EPA and DHA, which is normally just found in fish.
- Spinach: Not only a great source for iron, spinach is also an excellent plant source for ALA. A half cup serving of spinach can contain as much as 100 milligrams of omega-3’s.
Your turn to action:What are some of your favorite foods with omega-3s? Let me know in the comments below.