What is Omega 3 Fatty acid?
Omega 3 fatty acids are often referred to as essential fatty acids. This by definition means that these fatty acids are essential for our overall good health. The thing here though is that these fatty acids are not produced by our body and it can only be brought into the system through plant and animal sources.
The three main Omega 3 fatty acids are:
- ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid)
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)
While certain food sources have Omega 3 fatty acids, some have a different composition of the above fatty acids. Upon consumption, our body converts these fatty acids into the healthier Omega 3 acids which are required for our overall health.
Why does your body need Omega 3?
The list of health benefits due to Omega 3 intake is pretty huge. I am going to mention just a few key benefits and will soon go into the part of the source which is more important.
- Helps to reduce the impact of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Important for cardiac health. Also reduces the chances of coronary heart diseases.
- Is good for the treatment of autism in children.
- Has anti-inflammatory effects and can be used to reduce a variety of inflammation and related pain.
- Helps in the treatment of patients with systemic lupus.
- Can be used in the treatment of dry eye syndrome.
- Can a significant impact on lowering the probability of being affected by pneumonia.
While there are such excellent reasons to consume Omega 3, vegetarians always have a tough time in adding this to their diet mainly because most rich sources of Omega 3 are seafood. We hence decided to focus on the vegetarian sources of Omega 3.
How much Omega 3 do you need per day?
The general guideline for adults is 500 mg of Omega 3 EFA per day for good health.
Flax seeds (Preferably flaxseed oil)
Flaxseed is the most popular choice when it comes to vegetarian sources for Omega 3. While flax seeds are fiber-rich and are packed with Omega 3, flaxseed oil is a much better source of the fatty acid. Flaxseed oil contains both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
Flaxseed oil also contains plant-based Omega 3 and ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid). In order to get the recommended daily intake of omega 3, a tablespoon of the oil would be the ideal intake. See this article by Harvard Health Publications – it has thrown excellent insight into the properties of flaxseed oil for Omega 3.
Chia seeds are another excellent source of Omega 3. We see this seed mainly as a flavoring agent for porridge, smoothies, and salads and often ignore the numerous benefits it has to offer.
Chia seeds contain more omega 3 than salmon and also contain ALA. But research shows that just ALA would not be sufficient and chia seeds also contain certain anti-nutrition which diminishes its value to an extent. A study by Dr.Nieman and his team showed that the regular consumption of chia seeds does not have much of a positive impact on weight loss and overall health as one might have hoped for. Although we might have to wait for further evidence and research to be sure, occasional consumption of chia seeds can do you more good than harm.
Soybeans are a healthy choice to get your recommended intake of Omega 3. Though not as rich in Omega 3 as flaxseed oil, it still is a good choice and you can include these in salads, gravy, or just as a snack. Soybeans contain a component called SDA (Stearidonic acid) which gets converted into EPA (refer to the list of fatty acids at the top) and thereby is used by our body in the form of Omega 3 fatty acid. This is how soybeans bring in the essential fatty acids into our system.
You can also consume soybeans in the form of soybean oil. You can use this oil as a garnish on salads or soybean oil capsules are also available in the market.
Walnuts are known for a lot of their properties. One of them is the Omega 3 EFA present in walnuts. To roughly give you an idea, for every 25 gms of walnuts that you eat, you get about 2.5 gms of Omega 3 EFAs. So about 10% of the consumption gets translated into Omega 3. I think that’s pretty cool considering these can be a healthy snack to chew on and easily helps you get some omega 3 while on the move.
Ayurveda has always advised the inclusion of pure ghee (made by melting unsalted butter) in the everyday diet. While doing further research on why this was, we found a number of interesting reasons.
I always did shun ghee when my mom asked me to have it, but this has changed my views a lot. Will write more on the benefits of ghee soon, but for now, just know that ghee is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acid. Ghee contains both ALA (an Omega 3 EFA) and linolenic acid (an Omega 6 acid). Research shows that consumption of these two EFAs needs to be in the right ratio and that’s where ghee strikes the perfect balance by providing Omega 3 and Omega 6 EFAs in the ratio 1:1!
I shall be back on more about this wonder food very soon – do include a teaspoon of ghee in your everyday diet!
Some of the other sources of Omega 3 EFAs are below:
All the sources listed in this section have good quantities of Omega 3 EFA. However, this may not be self-sufficient in meeting the recommended TDI (Total daily intake). You can hence include substantial amounts of many of these foods in combination with your daily diet. And there are always flaxseed oil capsules that you can lean on for back up!
Anon., 2007. Stearidonic acid (18:4n‐3): Metabolism, nutritional importance, medical uses and natural sources. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, 14 December, pp. 1226-1236.
Devlin, B. & Scherer, S. W., 2012. Genetic architecture in autism spectrum disorder. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development, 22(3), pp. 229-237.
Greve, L. C. & McGranahan, G., 1992. Variation in Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Composition of Persian Walnut. American Society for Hortcultural Science, 117(3), pp. 518-522.
Oomah, B. D., Busson, M., Godfrey, D. V. & Drover, J. C. G., 2002. Characteristics of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seed oil. Food Chemistry, January, 76(1), pp. 33-43.
Taga, M. S., Miller, E. E. & Pratt, D. E., 1984. Chia seeds as a source of natural lipid antioxidants. pp. 928-931.