If you’re like most Americans – 78% -- the answer is no. And that could be a long-term health risk, as these fatty acids are important not only because of the way that they help the body cells function properly, but because they have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, control lupus, eczema and arthritis, and possibly protect against cancer. There is also emerging research that shows omega-3 consumption may play a role in concussion recovery.
Omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat, are called essential nutrients because, unlike other needed fats that the body can make itself, omega-3s must be consumed in the diet. There are three different kinds of omega-3s; two of them, EPA and DHA, are found mostly in fish and seafood. The third, ALA, is found primarily in nuts and seeds. There are also some foods like margarine, juice, baby foods and eggs, that may be fortified with omega-3 oils.
What level of omega-3 fatty acids do you need each day? There is no scientific consensus here, as several groups have stated daily recommended amounts. US Dietary Guidelines and the World Health Organization recommend .25 g per day of EPA and DHA (each) for adults. For ALA intake, NIH recommends 1.6 g per day for adult males and 1.1 g per day for adult females. And women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need even more ALA: 1.4 g while pregnant and 1.3 g of ALA daily while lactating.
This nutrient is so important to brain development that FDA advises that women who might become pregnant, those who are breastfeeding, and young children should include more fish in their diets every week. They recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding eat 8–12 ounces of low-mercury fish every week to benefit fetal growth and development. Infants get the omega-3s that they need through human breast milk that contains adequate amounts of ALA, DHA and EPA.
So, what’s the best way to make sure that you and your family are getting the omega-3s you need? Definitely, eat more fish and seafood! Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies and mackerel will have the most DHA and EPA, while flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts have are high in ALA. And while we at GFNG are proponents of getting needed nutrients through food sources whenever possible, omega-3s intake is one area that you may want to consider supplementation if you are lacking in dietary intake.