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Natural intake of omega-3 fatty acids is essential

by Rich Jordan
Dietetic intern

Omega-3 fatty acids (FAs) are a class of nutrients that has been on the tips of tongues of dietitians in nutrition circles in recent years. Its popularity lately is caused, in part, by the broad range of media coverage it has been receiving in books, peer reviewed journal articles, news broadcasts, and infomercials. Another reason for the popularity is based on the up-and-coming research in the field. Any way you look at it, omega-3 FAs seem to be the new supplement for our generation in nutrition.

But why are they so popular?

Let’s start with the basics. Omega-3 FAs are a subgroup of polyunsaturated fatty acids that include linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are all essential in the human diet, meaning the body is incapable of making these nutrients on its own and eating them consistently in the diet is important for maintaining good health.

When advising patients and clients on the use of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation, make sure to encourage moderation. Like most micronutrients, excessive intake can result in harmful or even toxic effects on the body. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that the average adult American consumes 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids per day. For safety of use, the upper tolerable limit is 3 grams per day.

As dietitians, we know that omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient for growth and development. Their credibility can be attributed to a myriad of scientific studies that include more than 900 clinical trials showing evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can be used in the treatment and prevention of inflammatory conditions and heart disease. They were found to be effective in helping to treat rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. There is also preliminary research being conducted on the performance side of the spectrum to see how well it can limit the effects of exercise-induced soreness in localized muscles.

With all the new information regarding the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, there has been a skyrocketing marketplace for products containing omega-3. When an individual thinks of sources of omega-3 FAs, the most common food items that come to mind are fish and seafood. However, they can be found in a variety of non-fish sources such as eggs, meats, milk and cheese (from grass-fed cows), perilla (an herb of the mint family) and flaxseed, which has among the highest levels of omega-3 FAs.

Omega-3 is also found in fruits, such as black raspberries, native to Western North America, as well as walnuts. In 2007, nearly 1,300 new omega-3 products were introduced to North American and European countries alone. Additionally, many Americans choose to get their omega-3 fatty acids through diet supplementation. The most common supplement source is fish oil which is available for purchase in most local grocery stores and specialty supplement stores. However, like all supplements, it is better to get nutrients in the form of food rather than as a refined, processed, packaged supplement.

Ways to increase omega-3 FA intake
  • Add one to two fish meals a week.
  • Sprinkle flax or walnuts on your cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt in the morning.
  • Make a healthy omelet in the morning.
  • Add kiwi slices to your sandwich for a sweeter taste.
  • Add olive oil and vinaigrette dressing to fresh greens.

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010

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