I remember being a young child and my Mum giving me a spoonful of fish oil. As I child I never seemed to understand what a wonderful thing it was that my Mum was try to do for me. Instead, I would do anything to get out of consuming that stuff. These days I look for Omega-3 and will do anything to get the good stuff in my diet and even tell my Mum to eat more of it. The irony is not lost on me, if anything it just makes me smile.
As a part-time advisor at Nutrition House, the question about Omegas gets asked a lot. It begins with someone asking where the Omegas are kept. They then quietly shuffle around the section wondering which one to buy, until I ask whether they have purchased one before. At that point a lot of people sheepishly say no and aren’t even sure why they are good for them, just that they should be taking it. Which is a perfectly good answer, because it is good for us, and it’s not easy to understand why straight away!
Today’s buzzword: Omega-3
What it means:
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid. By essential, I mean we cannot produce it in the body so we have to get it from our diet. There are three constituents of Omega 3, which are ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is found primarily in plant foods, whereas EPA and DHA are found primarily in fish.
Why it’s good for us:
To understand this we need to understand the structure of an Omega-3 fatty acid. You must have heard about saturated fat versus unsaturated fat before. Both are necessary but play very different roles in the body. A saturated fat has no double bonds in its structure, which means it is more rigid and inflexible. Unsaturated fats have double bonds, which makes them more fluid, less sticky and more flexible.
Because Omega-3 fats are so fluid and flexible, they keep our cell membranes and cells in the body fluid and flexible as well. (Note: saturated fat gives our cell membranes structure, if we didn’t have saturated fat in our diet the cells would be falling apart).
Here are some specific benefits of Omega-3s:
- Brain health
- Glucose metabolism (blood sugar balance)
- Skin, hair, nail health
- Hormonal health i.e. PMS
- Heart health
- Anti-inflammatory effect i.e. good for arthritis, joints
Where to find it:
You can find Omega-3 in the ALA form in walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, soybeans and some vegetables. However, only about 3% of the ingested ALA will get converted into DHA or EPA in the body. So it would be best to also get some Omega-3 from animal sources like fish and seafood, which is high in EPA and DHA.
So there you have it! I hope that you enjoyed Week 2 of “Buzzwords Explained” and are ready to find Nemo…and eat him.