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Omega-3 (n-3) essential fatty acids are extremely healthy, and they should be an important part of your everyday diet. That said it’s not always easy to get enough omega-3s. That’s why I always get the same question: what’s the best source of these fatty acids and how do I get enough in my diet?
Well, the best alternative to high-quality fish oil is krill oil. That said here are all your options, along with some basic information about omega-3 fatty acids that everyone should know.
In this article:
First Thing’s First: Why Consume Omega 3’s?
Unlike other fatty acids, omega-3s are essential fatty acids, meaning that your body does not produce them on its own. You need to get them from your diet. This should be a priority because omega-3s can:
Create Strong Cell Membranes
So I mentioned that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are healthy, but what exactly do they do? Well, more than anything, omega-3s form a really important part of human cell membranes. Cell membranes are largely made of fat. In fact, a whopping 44% of cells are made from cholesterol and phospholipids. That’s why consuming a good amount of fat is important and consuming enough omega-3s largely determines whether or not you have strong cell membranes overall.
This, in turn, affects the function of those cells and cell receptors. See, you need a strong membrane around the cell to have cellular communication. You have a sodium-potassium pump that generates energy from that membrane. If there’s any damage within the membrane, then you’re going to have a problem with energy production. You might even wind up getting fluid backed up into the system, so that’s very important.
The cell membrane is also important for absorbing the nutrients that are traveling in and out of the cell. If it’s weak, then, you can actually be more susceptible to getting viruses.
So you don’t want to lose the sodium-potassium pump and you don’t want any destruction of the cell because that can affect the mitochondria. Also, if there’s damage to the cell membrane, you won’t be able to synthesize amino acids and protein as well as you would.
In short, you want the strongest cell membranes possible in order to be healthy, and omega-3s play a crucial role in that.
Help Make Regulating Hormones
Omega 3s also provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction, and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation.
Improve Heart Health
More than anything else, omega-3’s have been shown to play a protective role against heart disease. More specifically, these fats appear to help the heartbeat steadily and not fall into any kind of arrhythmia.
Similarly, they’ve also been linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate, along with lower triglycerides and arterial plaque when delivered at higher doses.
Play a Role in Regulating Genetic Function
Finally, omega-3s actually play a role in regulating genetic function. All of these functions can, at least in part, explain why there is some evidence suggesting that omega-3s can:
- Help prevent heart disease and stroke
- Help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.
Regulate Blood Fat
Many people have elevated triglyceride levels in their blood. This can put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Omega-3s can lower these triglyceride levels and restore homeostasis.
Help Infant Development
There is a strong link between DHA and visual and neurological development in infants. Consuming an adequate amount of DHA fatty acids during pregnancy and breastfeeding can improve your baby’s intelligence and eye health.
The Three Types of Omega 3
Really simply, there are three types of omega-3’s. Each one performs a slightly different function in the body.
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a 22-carbon-long omega-3 fatty acid that’s usually found in:
- Cold-water fatty fish
- Fish oils
- Grass-fed beef
This long-chain omega-3 primarily serves a structural function in cell membranes – particularly in nerve cells in the brain and eyes. In fact, it makes up about 40% of the polyunsaturated fats in your brain, and it makes up about 8% of your brain’s overall weight.
Overall, docosahexaenoic acid is good for the bain, the eye, and the heart. It’s particularly helpful to consume if you have any type of dementia or memory issue.
DHA fatty acid is also very important during pregnancy and breastfeeding since it plays a large role in the development of the nervous system.
EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, is a 20-carbon-long omega-3 fatty acid that’s primarily found in fatty fish, seafood, fish oil, pasteurized eggs, and grass-fed beef. Though it has many functions and health benefits, its primary job is to form signaling molecules called eicosanoids that can reduce inflammation in the body.
Eicosapentaenoic acid has been shown to be very effective against certain mental conditions, including depression.
ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid, is an 18-carbon-long omega-3 fatty acid and the most common dietary omega-3. It’s found abundantly in many high-fat plant foods like flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
That said, it should not be your primary source of omega-3’s.
While it’s great for energy, along with heart, cognitive function, and inflammation, ALA fatty acid doesn’t have biological functions of its own. Instead, it’s usually converted into EPA and DHA in the body, and this only happens in small percentages (only about 5% of alpha-linolenic acid gets converted into EPA, and as little as 0.5% into DHA).
Something else to keep in mind here? The oils are really delicate. When you buy the oils and you expose them to oxygen, they oxidize and go rancid really fast. So the best thing to do is to grind it yourself or make sure that you consume some high-quality oil that’s in a dark bottle and really fresh.
Sources of Omega 3
Yes, you should be consuming these fatty acids from omega-3 foods. This is the most complete source of omega-3s that you’ll find, and eating foods rich in this fatty acid will lead to healthier eating habits overall. That said, this isn’t always possible.
Luckily, there are lots of omega-3 supplements and products available today.
The Problem With Fish Oil
Fish oil is a great source of omega 3. The problem, though, is that, unless you’re getting virgin cod liver oil and consuming it very rapidly, chances are it’s going to oxidize and turn rancid. Fish oils are very fragile.
The Best Alternative: Krill Oil
A better source of omega 3 is krill oil. Krill is a small shellfish similar to shrimp. It’s loaded with EPA and DHA, as well as something called phosphatidylcholine, which actually protects the cell membrane.
Krill oil also contains something called astrayanthin, which not only has great health benefits but also will preserve the oil so it will not turn rancid like fish oil.
Other vegetarian oil alternatives include vegetable oils – like canola oil, soybean oil, or flaxseed oil – and algae oil. That said, these choices don’t contain as many fatty acids per serving. They also tend to be more expensive and less widely available.
Consider Your Diet
Looking to incorporate foods that have the highest omega-3 content? Try to eat these omega-3 rich foods at least twice a week (as recommended by the American Heart Association):
- Wild salmon: 4,023 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)
- Cod liver oil: 2,664 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)
- Sardines: 2,205 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)
- Anchovies: 951 mg per serving (EPA and DHA)
- Flax seeds: 2,338 mg per serving (ALA)
- Chia seeds: 4,915 mg per serving (ALA)
- Walnuts: 2,542 mg per serving (ALA)
And if you’re not into fish, stick to the plant-based sources.
Consider Other Omegas Too!
Omega-3 fits into a wider spectrum of omega fatty acids. These also include:
- Omega-6: Omega-6s (n-6) are also essential, so you need to obtain them from your diet. They’re used primarily for energy. Unlike omega-3’s, the average person actually gets more omega-6 fatty acids than they need, so this isn’t something we have to worry about improving or adding more of to our diet.
- Omega-7: These lesser-known fatty acids have been shown to support a wide range of health benefits, lowering blood sugar, improving inflammation, and more.
- Omega-9: Omega-9 is a non-essential monounsaturated fatty acid. Studies have found that omega-9s can reduce blood triglycerides, lower bad cholesterol, and provide a range of other health benefits.
Overall, each omega fatty acid serves a helpful function in the body and can be considered a positive addition to your daily diet.