You have no doubt heard the buzz around the beneficial qualities of Omega-3 fatty acids over the past several years. Believe the buzz—Omega 3's are MEGA good! This fatty acid is essential for proper health, and most of us (including our kids!) don't consume enough. Omega-3s are a form of polyunsaturated fatty acid that we need to consume through food or a supplement.
What is Omega-3?
Omega-3 is an umbrella term that describes three various forms of Omega-3 fats (ALA, DHA and EPA). These three types are not created equal. ALA can be found in plant sources such as canola oil, flaxseed oil and soybean oil and is eventually converted into DHA and EPA in small amounts. EPA and DHA are where it's at. These two forms of Omega-3 are the most beneficial forms and are found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, anchovies, sardines and mackerel as well as some Omega-3 fortified foods like certain yogurts, eggs, milks and cereals.
Studies have shown that DHA and EPA have beneficial effects on brain, eye and nerve development in babies, toddler and kids. In adults, DHA and EPA are important for neurological and cognitive functioning, and have beneficial effects on heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and perhaps even Alzheimer's Disease, Depression, Asthma, Macular Degeneration and more.
There are no concrete guidelines on how much DHA and EPA we should consume each day, but experts agree that healthy adults should consume about 500 mg (and up to 1000mg) of DHA and EPA combined per day and children should consume about 430-650 mg of DHA and EPA per day depending on age. To achieve this, it is recommended that adults and children eat two food guide servings (a serving is about the size of a deck of cards) of low mercury oily fish per week. Women require slightly higher amounts of Omega-3's during pregnancy and breastfeeding to support proper development of their infants, but it is recommended to continue eating two servings of low Mercury oily fish such as salmon, trout, Halibut, light canned tuna and Mackerel per week to meet required needs (see more about Mercury in fish here).
What about supplements?
For those of you who do not eat fish or who have kids who don't eat fish, an Omega-3 fish oil supplement is something you'll want to consider. Omega-3 supplements can be made from ALA or DHA+EPA-rich oils in varying quantities, so it is important to carefully read labels. Look for supplements that are regulated by the government for safety and quality. A regulated supplement should have an NPN (Natural Product Number) somewhere on the label to show that it's regulated and should be age-appropriate as indicated on the label. Most experts agree that It is not a good idea to take cod liver oil anymore because of its high levels of Vitamin A which can be harmful, especially to pregnant women who are already taking a prenatal multivitamin. For more information on the safety of fish oil supplements, visit www.nutrasource.ca.