There are three omega-3 fats that you may have heard of: ALA, DHA, and EPA (alpha-linolenic acid, docosahexanaenoic , and eicosapentaenoic acid). They are considered to be essential fats because we need to get them from our diet. Our bodies can't make ALA, and can only make limited DHA and EPA from the ALA, so it is important to include food sources on a regular basis.
Omega-3s can help prevent heart disease, lower triglycerides, and reduce inflammation. They are critical for fetal development, infant brain development, and may be protective against some types of cancer and macular degeneration.
Most Canadians are not getting enough.
The recommended ALA intakes are:
Men 19 and up: 1.6 g/day
Women 19 and up: 1.1 g/day
Pregnant women 19 and up: 1.4 g/day
Breastfeeding women 19 and up: 1.3 g/day
The recommended DHA and EPA intake is 0.5 g/day for men and women which could be met with two 75g servings of fatty fish per week.
Where can you find them?
- ALA can be found in walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed, and certain vegetable oils such as canola oil.
- DHA and EPA are mostly found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, trout, sardines and mackerel.
- Foods can be fortified with omega-3s directly or indirectly (by feeding flax to cows and hens). These include omega-3 eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, and soy products.
Some people choose to use fish oil supplements to get their omega-3s. This can be an alternative if you are vegetarian or don't eat fish twice a week. However, caution must be used as some can increase the risk of vitamin A and/or D toxicity, and they may cause belching, gas, bloating, nausea, or diarrhea. Always check with your doctor or registered dietitian before starting supplements to make sure there are no risks for you.
Stephanie Wheler, RD
Something Nutrishus Counselling & Coaching
Sources: Dietitians of Canada, Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats, 2010