Are You Getting Enough Omega-3 (The Right Kind)?

By on May 20, 2017
Are You Getting Enough Omega-3s – The Right Kind?

By Elana Natker, RD  –

You probably know that eating fish is good for you, but do you know why? Not only is fish a great source of high-quality protein, but fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring is a concentrated source of EPA and DHA omega-3s, nutrients that play a key role in health throughout life.

What are EPA and DHA Omega-3s?

EPA and DHA omega-3s are long-chain, marine-based fatty acids (not to be confused with ALA, shorter chain omega-3s found in plant foods). EPA and DHA omega-3s are found naturally in fatty fish, as well as algae (plants that serve as food for fish) and krill (small, shrimp-like crustaceans). Many foods such as milk and eggs may be fortified with EPA and DHA – but be sure to read labels carefully! Foods touting “omega-3” on its label may have added ALA, which does not provide the same benefits as EPA and DHA.

Why is EPA+DHA So Important?

The connection between omega-3s and heart health has been heavily researched, with more than 2,000 scientific studies conducted. There is ample evidence that EPA and DHA may help maintain healthy blood pressure and triglyceride levels, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. A recent study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that EPA and DHA omega-3s were linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), especially for those in higher risk populations—individuals with high levels of triglycerides or LDL cholesterol.

For post-menopausal women, a recent study found that EPA and DHA omega-3s may also lower the risk for all-cause mortality. In the 15-year-long study of more than 6,500 women aged 65 to 80, those with the highest levels of EPA and DHA in their blood were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause. According to lead author Dr. William Harris, the findings support the view that higher EPA and DHA omega-3 levels are associated with better overall health.

EPA and DHA omega-3s have also been associated with brain health benefits, including helping to slow age-related cognitive decline in older adults.

How Much Do I Need?

Most dietary guidance recommends getting about 250-500mg EPA+DHA per day to support overall wellness. For individuals with a history of heart disease or cardiac events and under the care of a physician, EPA+DHA needs may be greater: 1-3 grams/day or even more.

Unfortunately, the average intake of EPA+DHA omega-3s is a paltry 117mg/day. Simply eating two 4-oz. servings of fatty fish per week, such as salmon, tuna (canned or pouch is great and convenient), sardines or anchovies, should be enough to meet your needs. For vegetarians or those who do not like fish, omega-3s supplements (specifically those with EPA+DHA – again, read labels!) are an easy way to boost your nutrient levels. Fortified foods can help, but often there isn’t quite enough EPA and DHA in fortified foods to meet the 250mg/day threshold.

 

Elana is a nationally recognized food and nutrition communications expert and spokesperson. She received her master’s for nutrition and dietetics at Colorado State University and is currently a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, including several Dietetic Practice Groups and local affiliates. Elana is a consultant to GOED.

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Are You Getting Enough Omega-3 (The Right Kind)?