Contributed by Hillary Lutes
Omega-3 fatty acids are an unsaturated source of fat essential for good health. Studies show they improve hair and skin, reduce heart-damaging triglycerides, and aid in normal growth and development.
Our bodies cannot produce omega 3 naturally, therefore they must be consumed through your diet or supplements. Health benefits from omega-3 fatty acids include a lowered risk of heart disease, reduced risk and symptoms of cancer, and improved cognitive and behavioural functions.
There are different types of omega-3, categorized by the way they help your body. The nutritionally important groups are AHA, EPA, and DHA.
AHA is alpha linolenic acid, which aids in brain development and the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease and arthritis. Found in plant sources such as walnuts, hemp, flaxseed and chia.
EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid and is found only in fatty fish. EPA lowers inflammation, combats depression, and lowers the risk of heart disease.
DHA is docosahexaenoic acid, which is found in fish and seaweed. DHA maintains proper brain functioning in adults, and helps with cognitive development in infants.
Omega-3 occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, oils, and supplements, but it can be difficult to decide what’s best for you.
The best sources of omega 3 fatty acids:
Hemp, in both seed (also called hemp hearts) and oil form, is a well-balanced combination of omega-3s and omega-6s. Just under 40% of the seed’s weight is healthy oils, with 80% of that being essential fatty acids. There are 8.7 grams of omega-3 for every 100 grams of hemp seeds, making it one of the best sources of AHA. Enjoy the nutty flavour of hemp on salads, mixed in with hot cereals, or blended into a smoothie.
Flax, in both the ground seed or as an oil is a great source of omega 3’s, punching 55% AHAcontent. Flax can only be absorbed by your body when the protective shell of the seed has been removed by grinding. Add to cereals, baked goods, or smoothies.
Chia seeds (yes, the same as those sprouted pets), aka salvia hispanica, are tiny black seeds. 58% of the oil from chia contains AHA. Chia can be found as an ingredient in a number of healthy cereals, or try in yogurt, on salads, and as a topping for fish. Keep in mind chia absorbs liquid and becomes gelatinous quickly.
Fatty Fish are highly recommended by many heart specialists as they contain both EPA and DHA. Choose herring and sardines, which contain up to 2 grams of omega-3 per 85 gram serving. Salmon, mackerel and sardines rank high in omega-3 content as well. Not a fan of fish? Add a fish oil supplement or DHA liquid to your vitamin routine.
Keep in mind that the body can convert AHA to EPA and DHA. The absorption is less effective but the potential for conversion makes the AHA found in nuts and seeds especially relevant for vegetarians.
Foodstuffs stocks all of these power-house seeds and nuts and a wide array of Omega-3-rich fish oils.