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The best Omega 3 sources

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					Most of us are now well aware that Omega 3 fatty acids are good for our health or at
least we should be when we consider the amount of information being bombarded at
us by the press, television, magazines and health-promoting leaflets. Supermarket
shelves have a growing number of products claiming to have it, and even government
health departments are telling us to eat more fish in order to get it, but what exactly,
are the best sources of Omega 3?

First of all, it might help to have an understanding of what Omega 3 actually is. To put
it very simply, Omega 3 is a family of essential fatty acids that we must have to
survive, and they are Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). As we cannot synthesise these fatty acids in the body,
we have to rely on our diet in order to get them. However, for various reasons, our
diets are just not good enough anymore, and it is now estimated that a massive 85% of
the population are not getting enough. This is particularly shocking when we consider
that we need these fatty acids for our brain and our body to function properly on a
daily basis.

Omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties so helps to limit inflammation in the body.
It also thins our blood and lowers triglycerides and levels of bad cholesterol. It
balances our hormones, boosts our immune system and even helps to improve our
mood and cognitive functions. So it should come of no surprise that nutrition experts
have associated a decline in Omega 3 consumption with a rise in health problems
including heart disease, arthritis, depression, allergies, skin problems, certain cancers
and countless other conditions. Therefore, most of us could benefit from upping our
intake of Omega 3. However, there are some important points to consider regarding
the best sources of Omega 3.

Plant sources of Omega 3

Plant sources provide only the Omega 3 fatty acid ALA. We can find ALA in dark
green leafy vegetables like Spinach and Broccoli, Walnuts, Canola Oil, Pumpkin
Seeds, and Perilla, but the most significant source of ALA is probably Flaxseed oil.
According to the Vegetarian Society, 14 gr of Flaxseed Oil will provide 8.0 gr of ALA
compared to 1.3 gr for the same amount of Walnuts. Now here's the important part.

In theory we can convert ALA into EPA and DHA but our capacity to do this is
severely limited and can be as low as 5%. Research by G. Burdge and colleagues from
the Institute of Human Nutrition in Southampton, found that men have even less of an
ability to convert ALA than women. Effective conversion of ALA depends on several
factors including, diet, our state of health, stress levels, age and even our genes.
Furthermore, an increasing amount of research is identifying EPA as the fatty acid
responsible for most of the ongoing health benefits of Omega 3, which means it is
even more important that we get adequate amounts of it. We need DHA too,
particularly for healthy development of the brain and vision during pregnancy and in
the first few years of life, but the rest of the time we can produce the DHA we need if
we get enough EPA. So if our ability to convert ALA is not good, where can we find
direct sources of EPA and DHA?

Fish sources of Omega 3

Both EPA and DHA are found in oily fish such as Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna, Herring,
Anchovies and Sardines. The main problem with fish sources is that fish are
contaminated with toxins like Mercury, Dioxins, and PCBs. Over time, these can
build up to unhealthy levels in the body and basically undo any of the health benefits
to be gained from eating more fish in the first place. Consequently, the current
recommendation is not to stop eating fish, but to eat two portions of oily fish a week
and certainly no more than four. So if we have to limit our intake of oily fish because
of toxins, where else can we find EPA?

Fortunately, EPA can also be found in fish oil supplements, but again, lower grade fish
oil supplements can also contain toxins as whatever was present in the fish at the time
it was caught, is also transferred into the oil. But all is not lost. There are available
high-grade fish oils that have been processed in such a way that the toxins have been
removed. These very same processes also allow for much greater concentrations of
EPA, for example, as much as 70 to 90%. As the oil is so concentrated, fewer capsules
are required per day, making it a very convenient and cost-effective solution to getting
enough EPA in the diet to make a difference.

Conclusion

Unless you have a fish allergy or you are a strict vegetarian, then getting Omega 3
from plant sources cannot be considered the best option. Bearing in mind the poor
conversion of ALA, and the toxicity problem with too much fish, an excellent way of
ensuring that you get enough Omega 3 in your diet is to supplement with quality fish
oil that is high in EPA.

				
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