What are Omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids comprise of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids that are necessary for human health; but as the body can’t make them, it is essential to get these fatty acids through our food. While ALA can be obtained from plants, DHA and EPA are most needed by our bodies and are found in fish.
What are the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids?
Broadly, the strongest known benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids is the role it plays in reducing the risk of heart disease and in the development of the brain. In fact, benefits to the brain go beyond cognitive function to include mental health benefits. Countries with the highest intake of fish in their diets are correlated with the lowest rates of depression among citizens. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce inflammation in the body, and is hence beneficial for medical conditions related to inflammation. This includes arthiritis and skin conditions like eczema.
What should I eat to get more Omega-3 fatty acids?
It should be comforting to know that all fish contain DHA and EPA but they are the most concentrated in oily fish. Most literature on Omega-3 on the internet is written in USA and Europe and therefore commonly mention oily fish that are found in those parts of the world. This includes salmon, trout, anchovies, sardines and herring. But did you know that in Asia, we can also add fish like yellow croaker, Spanish Mackerel, hamachi and Chinese pomfret to the list?
I still find it tedious to eat fish. Should I go for omega-3 supplements instead?
Insufficient research has been done to show that Omega-3 supplements can deliver the same actual promised benefits. Most of the data on the benefits of omega-3s came from studies that looked at consumption of fish, not fish oil supplements. One concern is that over-the-counter supplements may not deliver the fish oil dosage promised on the label.
Should I be concerned about the exposure to contaminants and mercury when consuming more fish?
Many of the world health authorities have issued statements saying that the benefits of eating more fish far outweighs the outcome of not consuming fish at all. A general guideline to minimize the risks of exposure to mercury and contaminants is to consume a variety of fish and avoid excessive consumption of predatory fish.