Omega-3 Fatty Acid


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Ms. Ramya Ramachandran, Nutritionist talks about the role of Omega 3 Fatty Acids for a healthy heart…

In the recent years “Omega-3” has gained a lot of popularity around the globe due to multiple benefits it offers to our body. To understand the basics, fats are large molecules made of individual building blocks called fatty acids. When fats are considered as destructive villains especially to the heart, Omega-3 fatty acids rich fats are unique and stand out from other types of fat. These are considered to be the heart friendly fats. Unfortunately our body can’t produce Omega-3 fatty acids and therefore we need to supply it through diet. Hence they are called essential fatty acids (essential to include them in diet).

Omega-3 fatty acids are of three types – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA comes from oils of plant origin while the other two fats i.e. EPA & DHA are derived mainly from fish. Hence they are called as marine omega-3’s. There is another category of fatty acids called omega-6 fatty acids which are plant based and they are critical to brain development and function. Most western diets contain more of these omega-6 fatty acids. Basically omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory whereas omega 6 tends to promote inflammation. An imbalance in intake between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids poses danger to one’s health. As the saying goes , “Anything in excess is not good for health” and so is true regarding the food we eat. Remember, it is all about balance in the food we eat. Thus maintaining the right balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is very much essential in order to achieve a good health.

Did you know that omega-3 fats and your heart are made for each other?

Omega-3 fatty acids help your heart to beat at a steady rate and don’t skew into a dangerous irregular rhythm. It also lowers the increased blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate and abates inflammation which plays a role in the development of atherosclerosis.

What is really special about omega-3 fats?

Omega-3 fats exerts their cardio protective effects through the following functions

  • Promotes healthy cell membranes (cell covers)
  • Possesses Anti-Inflammatory properties (decreases the abnormal reaction of tissue, thus preserving tissue function)
  • Helps in the production of prostaglandins, a hormone-like substances which helps regulate physiological functions including blood pressure, blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of arteries etc
  • It reduces platelet (a type of blood cell) aggregation and improves blood flow.

Because of these enormous benefits, Omega-3 fatty acids prove to have a positive effect on heart health and in the prevention of many other conditions.

How easy is to bring Omega-3 fats on your plate???

Plant Sources: Flaxseed, walnuts, avocados, soybean oil, canola oil, mustard oil etc.

Omega 3 FA

Animal Sources : Fish (mainly) – Salmon, Tuna, Herring, Sardine etc are high in EPA &DHA. Though fish proves to be a wonder food because of its highest omega-3 content, still some fish may be contaminated with mercury, PCB’s etc which has a deleterious effect on our health. Therefore limit the intake to 2-3 times a week. Baked fish is always better than fried ones. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times a week. For people with heart disease fish oil supplements are recommended at a dosage of 1gm of EPA& DHA. Fish oil can interact with certain medications and can cause side effects. Therefore consult your physician before taking the supplements. Dosing should be based on the amount of omega-3 content (EPA&DHA) and not on the total amount of fish oil.

The WHO recommendation of omega-3 for healthy adults is:

EPA & DHA         :        0.3-0.5g/day

ALA                     :        0.8-1.1g/day


How do cooking/ processing alter omega-3 fatty acids?

Oils rich in omega-3 fats (PUFA) are extremely unstable when heated. When exposed to heat for a longer time, the oil becomes rancid. It not only alters the flavor and smell of the oil, but it also diminishes the nutritional value. Most importantly, the oxidation of fatty acids produces free radicals, which plays a major role in the development of cancer and other degenerative diseases.

These oils should be stored in dark and cool place. It should never be heated. Instead it can be used for sautéing vegetables/can be added to salads.

So go ahead and plan your food to your advantage. Give your body the extra protection.

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