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Found mostly in fish, these omegas are mega-important. Here’s why.
You’ve most likely encountered omegas in some shape or form before. Whether from food or as a supplement, the benefits are outstanding—and a must when it comes to a healthy, balanced diet. But with several different types and formulas, it’s important to do your homework first. Experts Judith Pentz, MD, and Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, weigh in on health benefits of omegas, formula types, and more. After taking note, you’ll never have to question yourself when it comes to finding the best omega options on the market.
Omega-3 fish oil is the most popular supplement in the omega family and is found primarily in cold-water fish and krill. “This essential fatty acid is also converted from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to omega-3 from hemp and chia seed, as well flaxseed oil,” says Pentz. “The challenge with these vegetarian options is that it is hard for the body to convert ALA to omega-3, even with a large ingestion of these foods. And the research noting its health benefits has been primarily done with omega-3 fish oil.” In other words, getting this supplement directly from fish is the most beneficial way.
“There is good evidence that it is helpful for our cell membranes, as there is an integral need for certain fats for the best communication to occur for the cell,” says Pentz. “Omega-3 and phospholipids are key oils for this to occur. And omega-3 oil has been shown to be beneficial for various organs in the body, including the lungs, skin, brain and heart.” Bowden notes that omega-3 can also help lower blood pressure and triglycerides, and is anti-inflammatory.
How to pick the right formula:
When looking for an omega-3 supplement, a natural oil or capsule are the top options—and also the easiest for the body to absorb. There are many supplement options today for omega-3s, from flavored liquids to gummies to effervescent powders. For those looking for a more mellow approach, capsules are the best option.
But not all fish oils are created equal. It’s important to find out know where the manufacturer sources its ingredients, what its manufacturing policies are, and if sustainability is part of its practice. Also, look for pharmaceutical-grade fish oils when shopping around. “This is a sign that the heavy metals have been removed,” says Pentz. “Cold-water fish are at the top of the food chain in the ocean, thus end up storing heavy metals in their bodies. This removal process ensures minimal risk for the consumer.”
Omega-6 fatty acid, also known as linoleic acid, is abundant in many common food items. Just like omega-3, the body cannot produce this fatty acid, so it must be obtained from other sources. “All of the so-called vegetable oils (corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, etc.), and all of the products made with those oils contain omega-6,” says Bowden.
While omega-6 plays a key role in healthy growth, development and brain function, Bowden explains that the real benefit “comes more from having a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the diet, as opposed to any specific and distinct benefits from omega-6.”
How to pick the right formula:
There aren’t specific omega-6 supplements, but there are supplements that combine omega-3, omega-6, and omega-7 in order to create a proper balance. They’re abundant in common foods that most people regularly consume, but if you need an extra boost, remember to research and find a quality supplement brand before purchasing.
Omega-7, the newest omega, is a unique type of fatty acid that is found in fish such as salmon and anchovy, as well as in olive oil, sea buckthorn oil, and macadamia oil.
Pentz notes that omega-7 is “protective for the cardiovascular system and reducing the risk factors of metabolic syndrome.” Omega-7 levels are also a good indication of insulin sensitivity. “The higher the blood omega-7 levels, the higher the insulin sensitivity, which is a good thing,” she explains.
How to pick the right formula:
Aside from eating a balanced diet with nuts and fish, you can also find liquid and capsule supplements. To lower associated health risks, Pentz suggests an omega-7 oil that “has reduced the palmitic acid to less than 1 percent as well as increased the omega-7 level to 50 percent.”
Don’t forget: it’s essential to store all omega supplements in a refrigerator to maximize their shelf life and quality.
Recipes for Omega Success
We’ve all been told to eat more fish, but could those batter-soaked, deep-fried filets and butter- and bacon-rich chowders really be health foods? We should be so lucky! So what are the best ways to get more of those good-for-you omega-3 fats into your diet, and what are the healthiest sources? Take our quiz to find out.
-By Vera Tweed
Like lean meat, lean fish is the healthiest choice.
Which one of the following fish is not a rich source of omega-3 fats?
a) Wild king salmon
b) Farmed Atlantic salmon
c) Wild sockeye salmon
d) Wild herring
e) Wild mackerel
Which one of the following fish is not high in mercury?
a) King mackerel
d) Atlantic mackerel
Even though fast-food fish is deep fried, it’s still a healthy option because it contains healthy omega-3 fats.
Salmon and other varieties of fish that come from the state of Alaska are always wild.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish how often?
a) On most days
b) At least three times a week
c) At least twice a week
d) At least once a week
b) Unlike fatty meat, fatty fish aren’t high in saturated fat. Instead, they’re rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Lean fish aren’t, although they’re still a healthy source of protein. If you don’t eat fish frequently, a fatty variety is the best nutritional choice.
c) Wild sockeye salmon contains 500–1,000 mg per 3-ounce serving, which is a beneficial amount, but not the highest. Wild king salmon, farmed Atlantic salmon, wild herring, and wild mackerel each contain more than 1,500 mg per 3-ounce serving.
d) Atlantic mackerel is low in mercury and sustainably fished, whereas king mackerel, tilefish, shark, and swordfish are high in mercury. For a free seafood guide that covers omega-3 content, mercury levels, and sustainability, visit the Environmental Working Group at ewg.org and select EWG’s Consumer Guide to Seafood.
b) Fast-food fish is typically cod, which contains low levels of omega-3 fats: less than 200 mg per 3-ounce portion of cooked fish. Salmon contains more than 7 times that amount.
a) The state of Alaska prohibits the farming of finfish, so Alaskan fish, such as salmon or pollock (typically used to make imitation crabmeat), are always wild caught. However, Alaska does allow farming of shellfish, such as Pacific oysters, blue mussels, littleneck clams, and scallops.
c) The American Heart Association recommends eating fish, preferably fatty fish, at least twice a week, with each serving being 3.5 ounces (or ¾ cup of flaked fish). For people with heart disease, the organization recommends larger doses of omega-3 fats, which may be difficult to obtain from food alone. Fish oil supplements can supply additional amounts.