Omega-3’s – Big Boost for Brain and Body

I’ve mentioned the powerful benefits of Omega-3 consumption several times over. I feel very strongly that as a society and given the Standard American Diet (SAD), we simply do not consume enough of this healing nutrient.

For centuries, fisherman collected oil from the livers of codfish and used it to soothe aching joints, troublesome skin conditions, and common-cold symptoms. While their reasons were anecdotal rather than scientific, current research resoundingly shows they were onto something. Nowadays, not a month goes by without a new study supporting the wide-reaching benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, including improved heart health and cognitive function as well as decreased depression and reduced cancer risk. In fact, a recent Harvard research review identified low dietary omega-3s as the eighth most common preventable cause of death in the United States today, only after smoking, high blood pressure, being overweight, inactivity, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high salt intake. Naturally present in foods such as fatty fish, flaxseed, seaweed, and walnuts, omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects, as well. There are 3 basic forms to be aware of:

» Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): Found in plants, especially nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseed. Some ALA gets converted into EPA and DHA in the body, but it’s not clear if amounts are enough. Still, both fish oil and plant sources offer benefits.

» Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): Found in oily fish, algae, breast milk, and in large concentrations in the brain itself, DHA is important for heart health and brain development, which is why it is often added to infant formula.

» Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Also found in oily fish, EPA works with DHA and may especially benefit heart health.

Thanks to increasing awareness, 30% of U.S. adult dietary supplement users now take omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) supplements, making them the number 4 supplement (after multivitamins, calcium, and vitamin C) according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition. Today’s omega-3s are sold as capsules, fruit-flavored liquids, and fizzing powders. But experts say the form doesn’t matter as much as the source. So how can you choose the right one?

Anchovies and sardines: Loaded with EPA and DHA, these small fish deliver substantial benefits for adults and children over age 2. Because they feed on tiny ocean organisms, experts say they’re safe and relatively sustainable. They also tend to be affordable and more concentrated than other fish oils. RECOMMENDED DAILY DOSE: 1,000 mg

Krill Krill: supplies EPA, DHA, vitamins A and D, and the antioxidant astaxanthin. Some reports suggest that the omega-3s in krill are more easily absorbed than those from other sources. Studies on krill’s health benefits remain preliminary, so it’s best used by adults, not children. RECOMMENDED DAILY DOSE: 1,000 mg

Salmon and Cod: Adults and children over age 4 can feel good about the EPA and DHA that salmon and cod provide. Although large fish can accumulate toxins such as PCBs, reputable manufacturers successfully remove contaminants by distilling oils. Look for “USP Verified” or other label statements about testing. Steer clear of shark products. RECOMMENDED DAILY DOSE: 1,000 mg

Algae: Grown in tanks by a marine algae fermentation process, commercial algae is more sustainable than fish sources, making it a great alternative for vegetarians and anyone with concerns about fishery sustainability. The catch? Algae contains high DHA levels, but no EPA. Most fortified foods contain flaxseed or algae-derived omega-3s. RECOMMENDED DAILY DOSE: 650 mg

Chia Seed: Vegetarians and anyone looking to boost fiber, mineral, and protein intake and to balance blood sugar can benefit from the ALA in chia. These tiny seeds of Salvia hispanica (sometimes marketed as Salba) are higher in omega-3s than flaxseed—and so antioxidant-rich that they can be stored at room temperature for long periods without becoming rancid. They also provide minerals such as calcium and magnesium. When added to water and allowed to sit, they form a gel that researchers believe slows the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugar. Sprinkle whole seeds onto cereal or yogurt, or mix into smoothies. RECOMMENDED DAILY DOSE: 1–2 tablespoons

Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil: Brimming with ALA, flaxseed is a good source of omega-3s, especially for vegetarians, and it packs significant fiber too. Phytochemicals called lignans in flaxseed may help protect against breast cancer. Flaxseed oil offers higher EFA concentration than the seeds, but without the fiber. Refrigerate both seeds and oil to prevent rancidity. Seeds must be ground for absorption; sprinkle over foods, stir into cooked whole grains, or add to smoothies. RECOMMENDED DAILY DOSE: 1 tablespoon or more ground flaxseed, or 1 teaspoon oil.

A word of caution.  Marketers have caught on to the Omega-3 craze and in turn have “fortified” a number of processed food products accordingly. Everything from eggs, cereals, milk, bread, peanut butter and margarine spreads are now augmented with higher levels of omega-3 fats making them, of course, far more expensive in the process. Don’t fall for the trap as you will pay high dollar for products which in the end deliver no results.

Nourish your bod and your brain with a healthy dose of Omega-3’s daily!

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