Learning Curve: What You Need to Know About Omega-3 Fats.
This Learning Curve on Omega-3 fats is sponsored by Burnbrae Farms.
Omega-3s are something I get asked about a lot. A while back, we used to recommend that people consume omega-3s for everything from cardiac health to mood disorders, but what does the research say? Do we still need omega-3s? How about omega-6 and omega-9s?
Let’s take a look at what these fats are, how much of them you should be eating, and which foods to find them in!
What are Omega-3s?
Omega-3 fats are what we call ‘essential fats:’ they can’t be made by the body, so we need to consume them in food or supplements.
Omega-3s include ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
ALA is present in plant foods like flax and vegetable oils, and it needs to be converted by the body into DHA and EPA before it can be utilized. This conversion process is extremely inefficient though, so although you may be consuming plenty of ALA, only a very small amount – like, 1-10% – ends up being turned into DHA and EPA. The rest is used for energy just like any other fat.
EPA is used to produce eicosanoids, which are signaling molecules that increase or reduce inflammation and other immune responses. When you get a fever, or you sprain your ankle and it gets red and hot, or when you start sneezing from pollen in the spring, these reactions are your eicosanoids at work. Eicosanoids can also reduce inflammation, which is very important for health.
DHA helps form your skin and the retinas in your eyes. And even though my baby factory is closed, it’s important for some of you to know that DHA is crucial during pregnancy and infancy to ensure the normal development of baby’s brain, eyes and nerves. It’s also important for adult brains, too.
Good sources of EPA and DHA include fatty fish, enriched eggs, and algae.
What are the benefits of omega-3 fats?
Scientists are studying links between adequate omega-3 fat intake and high blood pressure, dementia, age-related macular degeneration and some cancers. Their effect on mood has been studied extensively, but the verdict remains inconclusive.
What we know is that the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s is important – before the world was industrialized, our ratio of omega-3s to omega 6s was around 1:4. Now, it’s 1:15. The ideal ratio is debatable, but we do know that not getting enough omega-3’s can throw this ratio off unfavourably, possibly leading to inflammation and chronic disease. A balanced (low) ratio may be associated with lower cardiovascular risk and lower levels of inflammation.
What about omega-6s and omega-9s?
Omega-6s are present in large quantities in the Standard American Diet. It’s rare to be deficient in omega-6 fats, but it’s important to get your omega-6’s from nourishing sources such as nuts and seeds. A lot of the omega-6 fats that we consume are in ultra-processed foods, which in large quantities, may cause inflammation and increased risk for diseases.
Omega-9s are produced by our body, and are plentiful in our food as well, so no need to worry about them. In case you’re wondering, omega-9s are in in olive oil, avocado oil, and nuts.
How much omega-3 fats do you need?
There’s no Daily Recommended Intake for DHA, but research shows that the following levels are sufficient for general health:
Children (ages 1-18): 100-150 mg DHA/day
Adults: 250-500 mg DHA/day
A 2014 report from Statistics Canada found that close to 40 per cent of Canadians are not getting enough DHA+EPA omega-3 fats.
As a result, they may have increased risk of coronary heart disease (remember this survey provides information, but does not show cause and effect).
Where to find omega-3s
The two best sources of Omega-3s as DHA/EPA are fish and omega-3 enriched eggs, which compared to fresh fish, are an inexpensive way to get your omega-3s.
Eggs have a low carbon footprint for a food that delivers perfect protein. In fact, eggs are classified with soy and nuts and other plant proteins as low in Green House Gas Emissions by the World Resources Institute, 2018.
The omega-3 in Burnbrae Farms eggs come from flax seeds and omega-3 rich oils in the hens’ diet. What’s super interesting is that hens actually have the ability to turn the ALA in the flax into DHA for us. So the omega-3 in Burnbrae eggs are in the form of DHA.
Two Burnbrae Farms Naturegg Omega 3 eggs contain 180 mg DHA+EPA and two Omega PLUS eggs contain 300 mg DHA +EPA.
So if your family is always eating eggs, all you have to do is change the type of eggs you’re eating to increase your intake of omega-3 fats.
Final Thoughts on Omega-3s
Bottom line: Omega-3 fats are a healthy addition to your diet. They’re used by the body for many important processes, and they’re only available in food. Make sure you get them in the correct form, DHA/EPA, for the best bioavailability!