You've probably heard about the importance of getting sufficient Omega-3s in your diet. They're found in many foods, including flax and chia seeds, walnuts, seafood and dietary supplements. There are three primary Omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic (ALA), eicosapentaenoic aid (EPA) and doxosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mostly in plant sources while the other two come from fish and seafood. ALA is a precursor to the heart-disease fighting long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
The ALA Omega fatty acid is considered 'essential'. What does that mean? Your body can't make it, so you need to get it from foods. EPA/DHA fatty acids - found primarily in seafood - can be converted from ALA by the body, albeit in small amounts. Omega-3 fats are a key family of polyunsaturated fats.
Omega-3s are important components of the membranes that surround each cell in the body. They provide calories for energy and have many other functions in the heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune and endocrine systems. Omega-3s provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation.
Research has determined that Omega-3s can deliver many health benefits, not limited to:
Improving risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Reducing blood pressure levels and Triglycerides.
Raising the 'good' HDL cholesterol.
Preventing the formation of blood clots.
Reducing damaging inflammation.
Reducing the risk of Macular Degeneration.
Reducing symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome.
Fighting Auto-Immune diseases.
Possibly helping to prevent cancer.
Fighting age-related mental decline and Alzheimers Disease.
Omega-3 deficiency is very rare in the U.S. Most people consuming a well-rounded, healthy diet get plenty - including the ALA version - from the foods they eat and don't need supplements. Even people following a strictly plant-based/vegan diet have no issues getting enough Omega-3s.
The press and online articles have long touted fish and seafood as a rich source of Omega-3s, particularly the DHA/EPA fatty acids. What those same articles - and supplement manufacturers/sellers - don't tell you is that, unlike plant sources, seafood sources lack the necessary fiber of plant sources, come with higher levels of undesirable saturated fats and cholesterol, and potential contaminants such as PCB's and Mercury. Then, there's the issue of 'over fishing' and the long-term sustainability of our oceans. It's long been known that diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease in addition to other chronic diseases.
Even if you're not vegan, you just might not like fish, and you wouldn't be alone in that. Fortunately, you can get plenty of ALA from plant sources such as flax, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, soy foods (such as edamame), pumpkin seeds and beans. My morning 'hot' multi-grain cereal always has added ground flax and chia seed, in addition to pumpkin seeds in it. Plus raisins, Goji berries and sliced almonds. I make it by the batch to last a few days, in my Instant Pot, and it's simple to just warm it up with some plant milk in the morning. Rock and roll.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, "flaxseed is the richest source of ALA in the North American diet and has many potential heart-disease fighting benefits":
Reduces blood triglyceride values.
Neutral effect on the good cholesterol, HDL.
Reduces blood pressure.
Reduces platelet aggregation (clot formation) within arterial lining.
Reduces inflammatory response.
May protect against stroke.
Flax is possibly the best source of essential fatty acids, and is also an inexpensive and sustainable source of soluble (viscous) and insoluble fibers, lignans (a phytoestrogen found to help protect against certain cancers), high quality protein and potassium. It's easy to get the recommended daily two tablespoons of flaxseed in the diet since it can be added to cereals, breads and all manner of baked goods, rice, soups, stews, sauces (like Marinara!) and homemade proteins like Seitan. Sprinkle it on yogurt or a salad, or add it to oil-free salad dressings. I can 'hide' ground flax in almost everything! It has a subtle 'nutty' flavor that plays well with many foods!
So, I recommend that you save money on those expensive supplements, and instead, just buy ground flax seed in the bulk bins of your local market (Winco, here). Toss it in just about anything you cook. Same with the other seeds and nuts mentioned here. See? Isn't that simpler?
You might be interested in these additional resources about Omega-3 fatty acids:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Plant-Based Diets Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Flashback Friday: Should We Take EPA and DHA Omega-3 For Our Heart? Nutrition Facts dot org
Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil? Forks Over Knives
Note: I'm not a medical professional, a dietitian or nutritionist. Don't mistake this blog for medical advice from a qualified provider. The opinions expressed here are my own.