We all know that consuming too much fat is bad for our health, but did you know that an essentially fatty acid called omega 3 is actually good for your body and wellbeing?
Omega-3 fat is a form of polyunsaturated fat that helps to prevent heart disease, reduce blood pressure, enhance mental health, and reduce the inflammation of arthritis, amongst other things.
What is an omega-3 fatty acid?
Although it may sound like the name of a Star Wars battleship, “The Omega-3” is actually a fat (or fatty acid) that our body needs to function efficiently.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA, EPA and ALA. Studies tend to show health benefits from the consumption of the DHA and EPA forms of omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily, cold-water fish such as Atlantic salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herring, canned salmon and tuna, and in fish-oil supplements.
The beneficial effects of ALA are not as well documented. ALA is contained in some nuts, pumpkin seeds and certain vegetable oils such as canola, flaxseed and olive oil. Your body also converts ALA into DHA and EPA.
Good for the body and the soul
Omega-3 fat is good news, especially when it comes to heart health. Over the past decade, several major studies (including the U.S. Physicians’ Health Study and the Nurses’ Health Study) have shown that consumption of omega-3 significantly improves heart health and reduces the risk of heart complications.
In the Physicians’ Study, men with the lowest levels of omega-3 in the blood were 81 percent more likely to suffer death from sudden heart failure, than those with the highest levels in their blood.
Omega-3 fats help to keep your heart healthy by:
- Lowering triglyceride levels
- Reducing hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Reducing the risk of coronary heart disease
Omega-3s also benefit the rest of your body. For example, they can lessen the severity of inflammatory disorders such as arthritis or painful menstrual periods and may even help those with osteoporosis.
Omega-3s have also been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. Several studies in recent years have observed a higher incidence of depression among people who consume little or no omega-3 fats.
How “getting fat” means losing weight!
Not only are omega-3 fats good for you, they can also help improve the effectiveness of weight-loss programs.
Clinical studies show that people who follow a weight-loss program which incorporates exercise and a low-fat diet tend to have better control over their blood sugar and cholesterol levels when oily fish is a staple of their diet.
On the other side of the weight equation, people suffering from anorexia nervosa generally also have extremely low levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in their diet. Many experts now use treatment programs that include omega-3s to help avoid deficiency problems and improve mental health.
How much Omega-3 should I have in my diet?
Experts recommend we consume at least 500mg of omega-3 per day. Unfortunately, many Australians only consume about half this amount. The best way to increase your omega-3 intake is to make fish, especially the oily fish listed above, part of your balanced diet.
Be aware, though, that some types of fish may contain high levels of mercury and other nasties which make them unsuitable choices for women who are planning to become pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or for young children. For more information on mercury in fish, click on the link at the end of this article.
If you are contemplating taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements, it’s best to consult your GP beforehand so they can assess whether supplements are suitable for your particular circumstances and advise you on any potential side effects.
Fats and figures
Although the benefits of omega-3 fats are numerous, in general Australians eat too much fat, particularly saturated and trans fats. Fat calories should only make up 20% to 30% of daily calorie intake, and only 10% of total calories should be from saturated or trans fats.
|Type of Fat||Found in foods such as:||Recommended daily intake|
|Saturated or trans fats||Full cream milk, cheese, butter, cream, fatty meats and sausages, and processed foods||10% or less of total calories|
|Monounsaturated fat||Canola and olive oils, canola margarine, peanuts, avocados||10 to 15% of total calories|
|Polyunsaturated fat||Canola oil and margarine, fish, other omega-3 foods listed above||10% or less of total calorie|
This article was compiled in consultation with CalorieKing.com.au experts and in reference to the following sources:
Last updated: March 20th, 2008