When it comes to our diets, we are always looking for ways to cover all our bases with respect to nutrient intake. Hit your macros, get enough fiber, and make sure you’re getting adequate micronutrients in order to stay as healthy as possible. One dimension of our nutrient intake that seems to be endlessly debated and confusing is the types of fat we should include in our diet. Saturated fat, unsaturated fat, trans fat, and medium chain triglycerides have all been praised and demonized in the media at some point. However, one subset of fat that has always had a good reputation are the essential fatty acids (EFA’s) such as omega-3 fatty acids. Nowadays, everyone seems to advocate adequate intake of omega-3’s for one reason or another. But why exactly are omega-3’s so important and what are the benefits of omega-3 supplementation? Which sources of omega-3’s are best and just how much omega-3 do we need in our diets? While mostly every health expert will promote omega-3 supplementation in some fashion, they often do not know the answers to those important questions. In this article, we will get into the benefits of omega-3’s and what to look for in an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

 

Types of Omega-3’s

In all, there are over 10 different omega-3 fatty acids that can be found in nature. Each of the omega-3 fatty acids vary in length and number of double bonds (which makes them unsaturated), and they all share the characteristic of having a double bond located at the third carbon from the omega end (hence omega minus 3). However, when it comes to human physiology, only three of these omega-3’s are important. When we hear someone speak of the omega-3’s, they are referring to α-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA).

These fatty acids have several responsibilities in our body, but we cannot synthesize them ourselves. Instead, we must ingest them in our diet, which makes them essential fatty acids. However, even these three fatty acids are not created equally. ALA is easier to acquire in the diet compared to EPA and DHA, with DHA being the scarcest. Unfortunately, it is DHA that has the most responsibility in preserving our health. Making matters worse is the fact that conversion of ALA to EPA and then again to DHA is quite difficult for most people [3]. This makes it important to understand what types of omega-3’s we are getting in our diets.

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