Omega-3 is an essential fatty-acid, which means that our bodies can’t make it, and thus we have to get it from our diet. It improves overall health such as eye and brain health, brain function, fights inflammation, prevent degenerative disease, fight depression and anxiety, supports immune system, and much more. The bottom line? It’s well essential for optimal health and it’s too easy not to include into your diet. After this article you’ll understand why it’s a no-brainer to include omega-3 into your diet and how to do it.
Table of Contents
Omega-3 Health benefits
So, omega-3 fatty acid are important. Here’s just a small list of its benefits:
- Improves the permeability of the cell membrane (very important). Which means nutrients can get into the cells, toxins can get out.
- Keeps the burn-out away.
- Fights anxiety and depression (PubMed)
- Improve eye and brain health
- Decrease risk of heart disease (PubMed)
- Fight inflammation
- Reduce ADHD/ADD related symptoms
- Fight auto-immune disease
- Improve mental disorders
- Prevent Alzheimer disease and age-related decline
- May help prevent cancer
- Reduce fat in your liver
- Helps alleviate menstrual pain — perhaps even better than ibuprofen does (PubMed)
- Improve skin health (especially EPA)
- Important for insulin sensitivity.
Omega-3 and ADD/ADHD
Higher doses of omega-3 work on the same processes as methylphenidate (Ritalin), Adderall or other conventional drugs prescribed to suppress (and not treat) the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Read more.
What is omega-3?
There are 2 essential fatty acids: omega-6 and omega-3. Essential means that your body needs it from your diet. Our modern Western diet is very rich in omega-6, but often very low in good omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 is responsible for turning inflammation off (very important!), because prolonged inflammation causes damage to the cells — as we can see with COVID-19.
Omega-3 is divided in a few different substances, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which 8% converted into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
But, this conversion isn’t the most:
Healthy young males convert about 8% of ALA into EPA and only 0-4% (!) of EPA into DHA. (PubMed)
Healthy young females convert 21% of ALA into EPA and only 9% of EPA into DHA. (PubMed)
Quick and dirty:
EPA works anti-inflammatory.
DHA supports brain and nervous system health and function.
Yes, our body can use ALA to make EPA and DHA, but this isn’t ideal as it’s very inefficient and in certain cases this conversion gets interrupted, for example, when we are nutrient deficient.
ALA is found in plant based food, while EPA en DHA are found in fish oil and high quality algae oil.
Unfortunately, omega-3 is found in very low amounts in our modern Western diet, and thus in our body and cells. This in turn results in low grade inflammation in the body. And you don’t want that. Oh, no. Why not? Because it’s the start of degenerative disease. Ideally you’d have a 2:1 ratio between omega-6 and omega-3, to give an example, in our Western diet the average ratio is 20:1. Whiiiiich, is not ideal. The solution? Simply include omega-3 into your diet and ease down on your omega-6 intake.
As I said, omega-6 is essential too, but our western diet is very rich in omega-6 so we won’t have to worry about becoming omega-6 deficient. Here’s a list of omega-6 sources so you can indicate whether you’re consuming too much omega-6.
- The following oils: corn, soybean, walnut, canola, sesame
- Cured meats
- Other cheap, inorganic meat (as the animals have been fed with cheap, poor quality, high omega-6 feed)
- Snacks (corn chips especially)
- Fast food
- Firm tofu
- Cake with frosting
- Peanut butter
- Some nuts and seeds like: walnuts, pumpkin seeds, pecan, pistachios, almonds
Plant-based Omega-3 sources
Plant-based foods rich in ALA are:
- Flax seed (-oil)
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Walnuts (but also contain high omega-6!)
Unbroken chia and flaxseeds will not be broken down in the digestive track because of its hard shell. This makes it a necessity to either:
- Chew really well or,
- To break them right before consumption with either a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle.
Try to stay away from pre-broken flaxseeds as they’ve already lost their beneficial ALA (omega-3) due to exposure to air/oxygen and light.
For a plant-based lifestyle I’d recommend a high consumption of ALA and focussing on getting more than enough (A.K.A. optimal levels of) micronutrients from your diet — aim to consume 500 gram of veggies and fruit daily — and optionally, a high quality multi vitamin as well. This helps the conversion from ALA into EPA and DHA. Especially vitamin C, B3 and B6, magnesium and zink are essential for this process. Another option is supplementing a high quality algae oil. But as you could see, it’s only possible to convert a small amount of ALA into DHA, so I’d recommend supplementing algae oil as well.
I’m not a big fan of fish oil supplements as I don’t like the unethical and unsustainable idea of overfishing and fish being squeezed merely for their oil. But, algae oil is a great sustainable solution as there’s a lot of great algae omega-3 products on the market these days. More on supplements later.
Non plant-based omega-3 sources
It’s important to remember that heavy metals, especially found in bigger fish, such as mercury could be harmful to your cells/body. Be careful with unsustainable fish consumption, and avoid regular consumption of big fish like tuna. Fatty, low mercury, more sustainable, omega-3 rich fish includes:
- Atlantic Mackerel
- Wild salmon — please stay away from farmed salmon!
It’s a delicacy, so some people love it while others hate it. 100 gram of cod liver includes about 10 mg of omega-3 (if consume the oil as well), which is a lot. Because omega-3 is a fat-soluble nutrient your body will store it in its fat cells, rather than peeing out an access. I don’t want to recommend supplementing cod liver oil, because then why not just eat the meat as well?
Optionally fish oil
But again, I’m not a big fan of squeezing out fish.
I try to pay attention to overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices like farmed fish. Overfishing happens all over the world as it’s hard to regulate and governments don’t take enough measures (yet). Though, there’s some steps you can take to a more sustainable consumption of fish. My first tip would be to do your own research! There’s plenty of information online. Another great way is to buy your fish locally directly from the fisherman and don’t be afraid to ask where and how it’s caught. Check out their fishing equipment. Look for fish caught using methods with lower environmental impact such as hand-lining or potting. Also, choose your fish wisely. Know what fish is more and less sustainable.
Buying fish from the supermarket? Look for the MSC label. Also you can look into whether you’re consuming wild or farmed fish. Be careful with farmed fish and stay away from deepwater fish. Lastly, Norway has very high fishery standards, so if it’s wild Norwegian fish you’re most likely on the right track to consuming sustainable and cleaner fish.
Spread the word! Share tips and your thoughts with friends and family. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. The health of the oceans is no longer an issue for the people with time on their hand, it’s an issue for all of us and all marine species and for next generations to come. The ocean is the foundation of life on earth. If we destroy it, we’re indirectly destroying life on land as well.
High quality omega-3 supplements
To start off, a good quality omega-3 oil supplement smells fairly neutral and not rancid or like fish. Omega-3 is a sensitive oil, so you’ll want to protect it from heat, light and air/oxygen. The smell of a rancid oil means that it’s oxidised. It’s not uncommon for a cheap omega-3 supplement to get oxidised during the manufacturing process! And that’s far from ideal…
There’s a few things to pay attention to and I’ll break them down here.
1.GMP (good manufacturing practice) certified.
First off, you’ll want to know whether the product is treated carefully during the manufacturing process. A GMP label is a certificate for pharmaceutic and food industry to assure a high quality. All raw materials, intermediates and end products are checked and controlled.
2. Natural anti-oxidants added
A good quality supplement will be treaded carefully in the production and an antioxidant will be added such as: vitamin E (tocopherol), vitamin C (ascorbate), polyphenol, herbal extracts or citric acids. This protects the oil from oxidising.
3. Low TOTOX value
A lot TOTOX value says something about the degree of oxidation of the oil. A TOTOX value lower than 10 is a good value to aim for.
You can ask the supplier to inform you about the TOTOX value and they’ll have to provide you with the true value. If they insist, you’ll he’s not your guy, or gal.
If liquid (not the capsules) omega-3 is packaged in plastic make sure it’s free of Bispfenol A (BPA), but also other bisphenol which can knock your hormones out of balance as it behaves as hormones in the body.
Preferably choose for a dark, glass bottle when buying liquid omega-3 oil.
Bisphenol are fat-soluble, which means the concentration of bisphenols in the oil can increase greatly.
If you choose to supplement fish oil look for the MSC label and look into the source and fishing methods. The MCS label makes sure the whole process of fishing up to manufacturing is traceable. Have a scroll up for more information on sustainable fishing. Don’t be ignorant and do your research.
6. 100% natural
There’s no need for synthetic additives. Look for supplements containing 100% natural ingredients.
7. Purified from heavy metals
Again, if you choose fish oil, make sure it’s purified from heavy metals. Big fish contain more heavy metals. You can ask your supplier for a research report. If they aren’t transparent you’re probably better off searching for another supplier.
Need more, personal guidance on supplementing? Here’s how I can help.
How much omega-3 do I need?
How much you need really depends on your unique body, diet, lifestyle, age, etc. and the only way to truly find out is by measuring. Depending on your result you can modify and monitor your omega-3 index.
Generally speaking you’ll need al least 250 mg of DHA + EPA together daily for it to be effective. It’s not an optimal amount, but a minimum. This is not an established nutrient level/RDA by the European, nor US government. Though, I think it will be established soon as research shows more and more evidence of the importance of omega-3.
With 1-2 servings of fatty fish weekly (200 gram/3.5 ounce) you’d reach the minimum average daily dose of EPA + DHA.
World Health Organisation (WHO)
The World Health Organisation suggests 200-500 mg DHA + EPA per week coming from regular fish consumption: 1-2 servings of fatty fish weekly. Or ALA from adequate intake of plant sources for vegetarians.
But, for an optimal omega-3 level you want think about getting at least between 500 mg and 1000 mg of DHA + EPA (together) weekly.
Optimal omega-3 index, get tested.
For an optimal level of omega-3 you can do a simple omega-3 index test. Depending on your age, lifestyle, gender, weight and genetics you’ll have to modify your omega-3 intake.
An optimal omega-3 index is between 8% and 12%. Currently the only average population of Alaska, Norway, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Denmark and Nigeria reach that level. Though, not all countries have been estimated. With US, UK and Canada reaching below 4% and the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain and Germany between 4% and 6%.
For finetuning an optimal omega-3 index it’s helpful to get tested again after 3/4 months. This period allows your body enough time to adjust its index.
Are you interested in getting your omega-3 index tested?
With a painless fingerpick I’m taking tests during a consult. The blood will be send to a lab in Germany and within a few weeks you’ll know where you’re at. Based upon your test result we’ll zoom into how you can modify and adjust your lifestyle and diet to reach your optimal health. The investment of the omega-3 index test is €69,95.
Don’t want to invest the money? No worries! Getting a good average DHA + EPA intake through your diet works as well. Think of a test to fine tuning, which is helpful especially if you’re experiencing symptoms that could (partially) be omega-3 related.
Implementing the essential omega-3 fatty acid into your diet is, well, essential for optimal overall health as you now know.
Want to know more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet? Don’t be afraid to reach out! I’d love to help and support you.