Omega-3: The Fat You Need

Omega-3: The Fat You Need
Written by Evita Basilio BSc Nutrition

Reviewed by Andrea Miller MHSc, RD

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid which cannot be naturally produced by the body and must be obtained through our diets. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.

How Omega-3s work
Omega-3 fatty acids are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function. Likely due to these effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.

Types of Omega-3s
Omega-3s are divided into three types: EPA and DHA Рprimarily found in some fish, including salmon, trout and sardines; and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. ALA is an essential fat so it must be consumed in the diet. Our bodies can make EPA and DHA from ALA, but this is very limited. Therefore, it is important to include foods rich in DHA and EPA in your diet.

The optimal intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) has been estimated to be 0.8-1.1 g/day for children and adults.

Age in Years Aim for an ALA intake of grams (g)/day
Men 19 and older 1.6
Women 19 and older 1.1
Pregnant Women 19 and older 1.4
Breastfeeding Women 19 and older 1.3

Source: Dietitians of Canada
*Your doctor may also recommend more omega-3 fats if you have heart disease or are at risk for heart disease. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for more information.

For a list of food sources of Omega-3 fats, visit Dietitians of Canada