What is ‘essential’ about omega 3?
Vitamins and certain minerals are termed as essential as they cannot be synthesised – or ‘created’ – by the body or are not produced in sufficient amounts to meet our needs. In other words, to maintain adequate levels, an essential nutrient need to enter your body through diet. Vitamin D is a prime example of this as, although you can make a certain amount in your skin on exposure to sunlight, it’s difficult to obtain enough during the cold months of the year.
Dr Sarah says, ‘Omega-3 fatty acids are classed as essential for health as we cannot make the shortest-chain omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which must come from our diet. We can make the longer-chain omega-3s, such as EPA and DHA, if we obtain good amounts of dietary alpha-linolenic acid, but these conversions are inefficient so that EPA and DHA are often in short-supply and are often referred to as essential, too.’
Where do omega 3 fatty acids come from?
Contrary to what you might think, omega 3 fatty acids don’t just come from fish. While good dietary sources of omega-3 include oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines, pilchards and fresh (not tinned) tuna, they are also obtained from nuts, seeds and fortified foods. Omega-3s are also found in grass-fed wild game meats such as venison and buffalo.
When it comes to supplements, there are many different sources of omega 3s:
- Fish oil comes from the flesh of oily fish;
- Krill oil comes from a shrimp-like, Antarctic crustacean;
- Cod liver oil comes from the liver of cod;
- Algae oil comes from marine algae;
- Flaxseed oil comes from mature linseed.
A minimum intake of 450 mcg omega-3 per day is recommended from dietary sources (equivalent to eating two portions of fish, once of which is oily, per week). The problem is us Brits rarely manage to eat two portions of oily fish per week as recommended by the Government. A supplement is a good way to prevent a shortfall in your diet of omega 3 fatty acids – acting as your own personal health insurance and allowing for those days where you’re just too busy to think in detail about the nutrients you’ve consumed that day.
Why are omega 3 fatty acids so important?
Dr Sarah Brewer says, 'Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory action that is beneficial for joints and have protective effects on the heart, blood pressure and circulation. They are also essential for normal brain function and vision. If you usually eat one or two portions of oily fish per week, you may not need a fish oil supplement. If you tend to opt for white fish, then a supplement providing 300mg EPA/DHA per day will support your nutritional needs. If you rarely eat fish, then a higher strength supplement supplying 600mg EPA/DHA is ideal.’