What are omega 3 fatty acids?

Omega 3

Omega 3

What are omega 3 fatty acids?

You've probably been hearing about omega 3 fatty acids in recent years. The reason? A growing body of scientific research indicates that these healthy fats help prevent a wide range of medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, depression, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Unlike the saturated fats found in butter and lard, omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated. In chemistry class, the terms "saturated" and "polyunsaturated" refer to the number of hydrogen atoms that are attached to the carbon chain of the fatty acid. In the kitchen, these terms take on a far more practical meaning.

Polyunsaturated fats, unlike saturated fats, are liquid at room temperature and remain liquid when refrigerated or frozen. Monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, are liquid at room temperature, but harden when refrigerated. When eaten in appropriate amounts, each type of fat can contribute to health. However, the importance of omega 3 fatty acids in health promotion and disease prevention cannot be overstated.

The three most nutritionally important omega 3 fatty acids are

  • alpha-linolenic acid
  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

    Alpha-linolenic acid is one of two fatty acids traditionally classified as "essential." The other fatty acid traditionally viewed as essential is an omega 6 fat called linoleic acid. These fatty acids have traditionally been classified as "essential" because the body is unable to manufacture them on its own and because they play a fundamental role in several physiological functions. As a result, we must be sure our diet contains sufficient amounts of both alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid.

    Dietary sources of alpha-linolenic acid include flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, soybeans and some dark green leafy vegetables. Linoleic acid is found in high concentrations in corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil. Most people consume a much higher amount of linoleic acid than alpha-linolenic acid, which has important health consequences. 

The body converts alpha-linolenic acid into two important omega 3 fats, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). These fats can also be derived directly from certain foods, most notably cold-water fish including salmon, tuna, halibut, and herring. In addition, certain types of algae contain DHA. EPA is believed to play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, while DHA is the necessary for proper brain and nerve development. 

World's Healthiest Foods ranked as quality sources of:
omega 3 fatty acids
Food Serving
Size
Cals Amount
(g)
DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's
Healthiest
Foods Rating
Flaxseeds 2 tbs 95.3 3.51 146.3 27.6 excellent
Cloves, dried, ground 2 tsp 14.2 0.20 8.3 10.6 very good
Walnuts 0.25 cup 163.5 2.27 94.6 10.4 excellent
Oregano, dried, ground 2 tsp 9.2 0.12 5.0 9.8 very good
Salmon, chinook, baked/broiled 4 oz-wt 261.9 2.09 87.1 6.0 excellent
Cauliflower, boiled 1 cup 28.5 0.21 8.8 5.5 very good
Mustard seeds 2 tsp 35.0 0.20 8.3 4.3 very good
Cabbage, shredded, boiled 1 cup 33.0 0.17 7.1 3.9 very good
Romaine lettuce 2 cup 15.7 0.08 3.3 3.8 good
Broccoli, steamed 1 cup 43.7 0.20 8.3 3.4 very good
Brussel sprouts, boiled 1 cup 60.8 0.26 10.8 3.2 good
Winter squash, baked, cubes 1 cup 80.0 0.34 14.2 3.2 good
Tofu, raw 4 oz-wt 86.2 0.36 15.0 3.1 good
Summer squash, cooked, slices 1 cup 36.0 0.15 6.3 3.1 good
Halibut, baked/broiled 4 oz-wt 158.8 0.62 25.8 2.9 good
Collard greens, boiled 1 cup 49.4 0.18 7.5 2.7 good
Spinach, boiled 1 cup 41.4 0.15 6.3 2.7 good
Kale, boiled 1 cup 36.4 0.13 5.4 2.7 good
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 297.6 1.03 42.9 2.6 good
Shrimp, steamed/boiled 4 oz-wt 112.3 0.37 15.4 2.5 good
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 28.8 0.09 3.8 2.3 good
Cod, baked/broiled 4 oz-wt 119.1 0.32 13.3 2.0 good
Strawberries 1 cup 43.2 0.11 4.6 1.9 good
Green beans, boiled 1 cup 43.8 0.11 4.6 1.9 good
Snapper, baked/broiled 4 oz-wt 145.2 0.36 15.0 1.9 good
Scallops, baked/broiled 4 oz-wt 151.7 0.35 14.6 1.7 good
Tuna, yellowfin, baked/broiled 4 oz-wt 157.6 0.33 13.8 1.6 good
Raspberries 1 cup 60.3 0.12 5.0 1.5 good
Miso 1 oz 70.8 0.14 5.8 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

 

 

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