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Omega 3

by Sarah Horrocks Published on 5 September 2008

What are Omega 3s, what do they do and where can you find them? Here's our guide to these essential nutrients and where to find them.

What are Omega 3s, what do they do and where can you find them?

Definition

Omega 3s are lipids (fats). Fats are made up of little elements called fatty acids, including Omega 3s.

There are several types of Omega 3s with different chemical makeup:
- Saturated fatty acidsare known for being hard to break down. They don't change in contact with air or light and are generally solid at room temperature.
- Unsaturated fatty acidsare divided into two categories: mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated. The latter include the essential fatty acids which our bodies need but cannot produce: Omega 3 and Omega 6.

What they do

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for the function of our bodies on many different levels:
- Along with other nutrients, they help keep our skin healthy.
- They protect our cardio-vascular system, help keep the blood fluid, reduce the level of fat circulating in the arteries (triglycerides) and regulate the heartbeat, helping prevent heart attacks and strokes.
- They have anti-inflammatory effects.
- They facilitate the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E and K.
- They maintain the circulation, muscles, sight, brain, digestive, hormonal and immune systems.
- They can have a positive effect on Alzheimer’s disease, stress, anxiety and depression.
- They can help prevent some forms of cancer.

Sources

Omega 3s are available as nutritional supplements, but you can easily get your fill from foods which contain them naturally, such as oily fish (mackerel, tuna, sardines, salmon, eel and herring), some oils (colza, walnut and ISIO oil), lamb’s lettuce, walnuts and linseed. It's also found added to some types of margarine, milk, eggs and yoghurt.

Needs and advice

According to official recommendations we need to eat more Omega 3. The RDA is around 2g for men and 1.6g for women, 2g for pregnant women and 2.2g for breastfeeding women.

At the same time it's important to control (and limit, where necessary) your intake of other fats, especially saturated fats (butter, fatty meat and dairy products) and not to get too much Omega 6 unsaturated fat (found in other types of oily foods, oils and nuts). It's all a question of balance.

At least one portion of oily fish per week and one of the three types of good Omega 3 oils mentioned above (around 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil a day) every day is enough to meet your nutritional needs without resorting to supplements. Though you may need to increase your Omega 3 intake, it's like any other nutrient and shouldn't be consumed in excess. Remember that these fatty acids make the blood more fluid.

by Sarah Horrocks