Omega-3 fats, also known as omega-3 fatty acids, are a category of polyunsaturated fats that can be subdivided into three main types–alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA). Together, these three types of omega-3 fatty acids promote cardiovascular health by decreasing the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis. In addition, they play a pivotal role in proper brain function and are needed in sufficient amounts for the neurological systems of developing fetuses and infants to grow appropriately.
All three types of omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential dietary fats. They are available to our bodies only when we consume enough of them through the foods we eat on a regular basis. They cannot be synthesized through physiological chemical reactions alone. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of foods that provide ample amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids–particularly the EPA and DHA types–is fish. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), two weekly 3 1/2-oz. servings of omega-3 fat-rich fish, such as lake trout, herring, tuna, salmon, mackerel, halibut and sardines, can provide ample amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. If you dislike these types of fish, taking daily fish oil capsule supplements can help bridge the gap, although consuming more than 3 grams (g) of omega-3 fatty acids from these supplements can cause health problems. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises pregnant women and children to choose fish with lower mercury content–such as salmon and canned tuna–over more mercury-dense omega-3 fat-rich fish, like mackerel.
As few as 2 tbsp. flaxseeds can provide 146.3 percent of your daily recommended allowance of omega-3 fatty acids, especially the ALA type of omega-3 fat. Flaxseeds are the small, dark brown or golden seeds of the flax, or linseed, plant. They can be added to the diet in different ways. You can add them as whole seeds to bread recipes or use them to top cereal or yogurt. They can be ground into meal and added into any recipe. You can also get their benefits from your consumption of flaxseed oil.
Although all nuts contain substantial amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts boast the largest amount, with 1/4 cup of raw, shelled walnuts containing more omega-3 fats than 4 oz. salmon. Recent studies have led researchers to conclude that walnuts as a regular part of an individual’s diet directly lowers LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol) and decreases the risk of heart disease. People who do not simply add walnuts to their existing diet, but who use them as a protein replacement for cheese or meat, tend to experience the greatest benefits.