Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus.See all posts »
Omega-3's: Which is best?
The science on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is strong and seems to be getting stronger every day. But people I talk to are often confused as to where the best source of omega-3 is and how to get it. So here is my omega-3 101 lesson. Omega-3s reduce inflammation all over the body, and many diseases involve inflammation somewhere. They also act as a blood thinner.
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for the following:
- Blood pressure: may lower blood pressure
- Heart disease: can cut triglyceride levels 20-50%, reduce inflammation, and appear to lower overall risk of death from heart disease (heart attack and stroke)
- Rheumatoid arthritis: can reduce stiffness and joint pain, boost effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs
- Depression: may reduce symptoms of depression, boost effects of antidepressants
- Pregnancy: important for visual and neurological brain development in infants, taking during pregnancy boosts health and development
- Less strong evidence but still may benefit: asthma, osteoporosis, ADHD, alzheimer's and dementia
Not all omega-3's are the same. The three main forms are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). EPA and DHA are found in fish and algae and ALA is found in flax, walnuts, and soybeans, and canola oil (main sources). So if you don't like fish can you just eat lots of walnuts? They aren't quite the same.
EPA and DHA are thought to be the most beneficial. ALA converts into EPA and very little into DHA. But it takes a lot to convert the amounts that we need to get the benefits. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least 2 servings of fatty fish each week (salmon, herring, mackeral, trout, albacore tuna). For people with heart disease they recommend taking 1000 mg each day of a combo of DHA/EPA. If you need to lower triglycerides consider taking 2000-3000 mg per day. Anything more than 3000 mg should be under doctor's care because it can cause excessive bleeding. It is always best to check with your doctor first, even before you start 1000 mg per day.
I think most people (as long as they don't have a clotting disorder or are on blood thinning medication) can benefit from taking 1000 mg per day (not just people with heart disease).
If you take a supplement, get one with DHA and EPA, which will be fish oil. If you are a vegetarian, you can get an algae oil supplement with DHA. I don't typically recommend taking flax oil as a supplement, but I do think getting more walnuts, soybeans, and ground flax seeds in our diet is good. Try for daily. Use canola oil when baking or cooking.
The best book I have found on this subject is The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet by Evelyn Tribole, RD.
Also check out www.vitaloils1000.com for a 1000 mg fish oil with no fishy side effects all in one pill.