Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly referred to as Fish Oils, have been talked about more and more frequently over the last two decades … and have earned a lot of respect due to their vast benefits. But, even though Fish Oil is a household term at this point… most people have no idea what omega-3 fatty acids are or what they do! They just “know” that it’s a healthy thing to do or something that they should do. There is a problem with that… if you don’t really understand what they are, why they are beneficial, and the true impact they can have on you… are you going to make it a priority to use them?
Are you making sure to work omega-3 foods into a nutrient-dense diet?
How do you know if you are getting enough omega-3s into your day?
Are you deficient in omega-3 fatty acids?
That might have your gears turning a little bit as you don’t know those answers… but don’t feel bad, most people don’t! Shoot, I didn’t for many years and overlooked the power and benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. But, it’s worth investing 5 minutes to read this blog and educate yourself because omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial nutrient for overall health. Your body doesn’t produce omega-3s on its own, which makes them “essential fatty acids” — you must get them through nutrition (mainly fatty fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and lake trout) and supplementation.
Now, one of the reasons there is a bit of confusion about omega-3 fatty acids is because there are so many benefits! They can help in many ways but are most commonly known for reducing the risk of heart disease, helping with proper fetal development, reducing inflammation in the blood and joints, favorable changes for fat loss or weight management, and many more… plus those benefits aren’t reserved for a specific age group or gender, these acids support and promote optimal health for anyone!
So, let’s jump into your questions…
What are omega-3 fatty acids, and why do I need them?
Hold on for a second, these next few paragraphs are going to get a little heavy on the scientific terms, but I promise I will make sense of it for you. Omega-3s are a specific type of polyunsaturated fatty acid, meaning they contain more than one double bond in their chemical structure. The “3” refers to where in the chemical structure the first double bond occurs.
Like stated above, omega-3 fatty acids are essential because your body can not produce them on their own. The three most common omega-3s found in food are ALA, EPA, and DHA.
Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA):
This plant-based omega-3 is found in green, leafy vegetables, flaxseeds, chia seeds and canola, walnut and soybean oils. ALA is known as a short-chain omega-3, meaning your body has to convert it into longer-chained EPA and DHA to synthesize it. This process is rather inefficient and only about one percent of the ALA you consume is converted to the long-chain version your body needs.
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA):
EPA is fatty acid found in oily fish, algae oil and krill oil. This is one of the main omega-3s you hear about. It, along with DHA, are the omega-3s that give your body the countless health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids when enough is consumed daily.
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA):
This fatty acid is also found in oily fish, krill oil and algae oil. Once again, DHA and EPA are the two most important and you want to consume fairly equal amounts of both! Good news is … you don’t have to track that. If you are eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids or using a high-quality omega-3 supplement you are most likely doing just fine with that balance.
Now to fully understand omega-3 fatty acids, you need to know a bit about omega-6 fatty acids, which are also essential fatty acids. See, your body also needs omega-6s to function properly. Unfortunately, we typically have way more omega-6 fatty acids in our diet than omega-3s (in the “standard” American diet). For proper function, your body prefers a 1:1 ratio but most diets contain a ratio closer to 20:1 or 30:1 (omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids). When this balance is off, and you have an overabundance of omega-6s, it causes inflamation throughout the body that can lead to significant health issues.
Omega-6s come in some form of linoleic acid (LA) and are found in vegetable oils, safflower oils, meat, poultry, and eggs.
Can you become deficient in omega-3 fatty acids?
Well, based off of the definition of deficient: not having enough of a specified quality or ingredient… then I would say yes, you can be deficient in omega-3 for your goal and lifestyle depending on what they are.
We already know that most people don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids, according to an analysis of dietary data about U.S. adults. There is no official daily value assigned to omega-3s, but the American Heart Association recommends two or more 3.5 ounce oily/fatty fish servings each week. That number is for an average American, not a fitness enthusiast that exercises more regularly and puts more wear and tear on his or her body.
How would you know if you are low in omega-3 fatty acids?
Here is a list of symptoms and signs to look out for that was compiled by University Health News…
10 Omega-3 Deficiency Symptoms
- Soft, peeling, or brittle nails (or slow-growing nails)
- Attention deficit, restlessness, poor concentration, or poor memory
- Depression, anxiety, or mood swings
- Dry, flaky, cracking, or callused skin
- Dry eyes
- Dehydration, thirst, dry mouth/throat, or frequent urination
- Dry, dull, or brittle hair (also dandruff or “cradle cap”)
- Stiff or painful joints
- Excessive ear wax
- Allergy symptoms (eczema, asthma, hay fever, hives, etc.)
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound pleasant to me. Like I said earlier, I didn’t understand omega-3 fatty acids for a long time and overlooked some of those symptoms above because quite honestly … I didn’t know it could mean being low in omega-3s! For most people, it is difficult to eat the required amounts of wild-caught oily fish, particularly with the well-known dangers of farmed fish, to fulfill their omega-3 fatty acids needs every day and therefore add a high-quality omega-3 supplement into their diet.
What are the benefits of Omega-3 Fats?
I told you earlier that there are many benefits to omega-3 fatty acids… so let’s go over a few more of them right now.
8 biggest benefits of omega-3 fatty acids
- Improves Heart Health
- Battles Mental Disorders and Decline with Age
- Reduces Inflammation
- Fights Autoimmune Disease
- Supports Healthy Bones and Joints
- Can Improve Sleep Quality
- Beneficial For Infant and Child Development
- Supports Healthy Hair, Skin, and Nails
The Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
As you read, omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important to your health and proper function of your body on a day to day routine.
Omega-3 fatty acids bring a large range of health benefits to all ages! Therefore you will want to make sure that you are not deficient in omega-3 fatty acids by getting in a minimum of 2 servings of wild-caught fatty fish each and every week, or utilizing a high-quality omega-3 supplement (remember, omega-3 fatty acids can’t be produced in the body).
If you need help working omega-3 fatty acids into your day to day routine, please reach out to our team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist and they’ll help you for free! Send us an email at [email protected] or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 from 6 am to 10 pm Monday thru Friday!
*This post was written by Will Grumke. He is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer.