What is Omega-3 Fatty Acid?

What is Omega-3 Fatty Acid?

Also called ω-3 fatty acids or n-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 is an important fat found in fatty fish such as salmon (when is the last time you ate a fatty fish like salmon?)

It’s is an essential fatty acid, which means it’s necessary for our health but our body cannot synthesize it.

Omega-3 must be obtained from the diet, so it is vital for everyone to eat foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids on a daily basis.

Omega-3 fatty acid is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) with a double bond (C=C) at the third carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain.

Why is it called omega-3?

Fatty acids have two ends, the carboxylic acid (-COOH) end, which is considered the beginning of the chain, thus “alpha“, and the methyl (CH3) end, which is considered the “tail” of the chain, thus “omega.” The way in which a fatty acid is named is determined by the location of the first double bond, counted from the methyl end, that is, the omega (ω-) or the n- end. (See Wiki)

Types of Omega-3

The three types of omega-3 fatty acids involved in human physiology are:

  1. α-linolenic acid or alpha-linolenic (ALA): found in plant oils.
  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): commonly found in marine oils
  3. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): commonly found in marine oils

The principal omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenonic acid (DHA) by the body. This makes ALA the only essential omega-3 fatty acid. ALA can be found in many vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits.

Why do we need Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

  1. Omega-3s are used in the formation of cell walls and also assist in improving blood circulation and oxygen uptake.
  2. They may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and also boost our immune systems. It lowers triglycerides (a fat found in our blood)
  3. They are necessary for proper brain growth and development in infants.
  4. They have anti-inflammatory effects on the body and may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of numerous conditions.

What is the recommended daily allowance for Omega 3?

There are currently no established guidelines regarding optimal omega-3 intake. According to the Institute of Medicine, the Adequate Intake (AI) is 1.1 and 1.6 grams daily for women and men over the age of 14, respectively, although some experts believe that these recommendations might be too low to obtain the health benefits associated with omega-3s. Research shows benefits associated with higher intake of 2-3 g or more per day. (University of Michigan)

According to Alberta Health Services, If you are healthy, 200–500 milligrams of DHA and EPA per day is recommended. Eat at least 2-servings of fatty fish each week (AHS)

What are the Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3s are most abundant in cold water fatty fish and some plant foods. Sources of omega-3 include the following:

  • The best source of omega-3 fatty acid is fish because they feed on tiny plants called phytoplanktons which are rich in chlorophyl. Cold water fish are naturally higher in unsaturated fats so will also have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. You can eat fresh or canned salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, halibut and light tuna. (AHS)
  • Fresh dark green vegetables, such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, parsley are the best source of omega-3 fatty acids. This is because all green, chlorophyll-rich foods contain omega-3 fatty acids in their chloroplasts.
  • Soybean (soya bean), and its products such as tofu and tempeh.
  • Seeds, such as flax seeds and pumpkin seeds contain adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Most seeds contain little omega-3 fatty acids, storing primarily omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Grass-fed animals are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and grain-fed animals are a poor source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Nuts: such as walnuts. Other nuts may contain smaller quantities of omega-3.
  • Cereal grains: whole grains of wheat and barley and wheat germ are also good sources.
  • Oils, such as flaxseed oil, canola, soybean (soya bean) and walnut oil.
  • Other oils, like corn oil, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils also contain omega-3s, though in lower levels than the previously mentioned oils.
  • Foods fortified with omega-3: eggs, milk, yoghurt, margarine, juice.
  • Seaweed (Wakame).
  • Omega-3 supplements: please contact your doctor, pharmacist or dietician for best products.

Why are omega-3’s unstable?

Omega-3 fatty acids are unstable so they oxidize and turn stale or rancid quickly. This is a general feature of unsaturated fats. The double bonds are easily oxidized. This is why whole-wheat flour or brown rice have a shorter shelf-life than white flour or white rice because the bran and the germ have not been removed. The germ has a high amount of unsaturated fat.


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

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