Why is Everyone Talking About Omega-3 and Should You Care Too?

Supplements seem to be the newest fad in India. Looks like we are borrowing from our Western counterparts and starting our own trend of including them in our daily routine.

When one speaks of supplements, it’s not unusual to also talk about omega 3. But before you also jump on to the supplements bandwagon (word of caution: DO NOT put any pills in your mouth without proper medical consultation), here’s a look at what is omega-3 and why it should be part of your diet.

Understanding Omega-3

Omega-3 are those kinds of essential fatty acids (EFAs), titled thus because of their importance to the body, which cannot be produced by the body itself. They are polyunsaturated fats that have to be consumed using food items (or supplements, only after advised by a doctor).

Flax seed oil is a great source of omega-3.

Consultant Nutritionist Dr Rupali Datta agrees and says:

" They (omega-3 fatty acids) cannot be manufactured by the body from other fat hence these EFAs must be a part of the food we eat. They are essential for our cells to function properly and are also involved in the production of hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and have an anti-inflammatory effect."

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids and they are as follows:

  • ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid): Found in flax, chia and hemp seeds
  • Docosahexaenoic Acid: Found in seafood, fish oils and algae.
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid: Once again, found in seafood and fish oil.

(Source: Healthline.com)

Benefits of Omega-3

Nutritionist Kavita Devgan hails omega-3 as a nutritionally rich food component and says:

"While the metabolic products of omega-6 acids (one of the two families of EFAs) promote inflammation, blood clotting, and tumour growth, the omega-3 acids act entirely opposite. Many researchers believe that a major reason for the high incidence of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, premature ageing, and some forms of cancer is the profound disproportion between our intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids."

She further adds that like all fats, EFAs provide energy, make food palatable and satiate hunger faster. Their calorific value is similar to other fats and oils, but unlike saturated fats, they have important physiological roles and work to yield multiple benefits throughout the body.

Dr Datta says that that the most established benefit of omega-3 fats is their ability to help the heart beat at a normal rhythm preventing fatalities.

"They are also known to lower BP and heart rate, improve the blood vessels functions, lower triglycerides and importantly act as anti-inflammatory agents which is the leading cause of lifestyle diseases. Indian diets are primarily vegetarian and do lack in omega-3 fats, especially EPA and DHA. In such a scenario, supplements should be taken under medical guidance." - Dr Rupali Datta

According to Kavita Devgan, a recommended intake of omega-3 includes either consuming a 100gm of fatty fish twice a week or 25gm of flax seed or methi seeds at least 4-5 times a week.

Kavita’s Verdict

She says that since oily fish are the only living creatures that contain omega-3, here’s a list of them that can be consumed.

Oily fish are the only living creatures that contain omega-3.
  • Trout: Packed with omega-3s, is also a good source of B vitamins, which can help improve energy levels and keep hair, nails and skin healthy.
  • Mackerel: Choose fresh mackerel rather than smoked or tinned. The smoking process destroys some of the nutrients and canned mackerel has lower levels of omega-3s. It is also a good source of selenium, which reduces risk of cancer and protects against heart disease, as well as vitamins B6 and B12.
  • Salmon: Salmon is ahead of trout and mackerel, containing 2.7g of omega-3 per 100g, is also packed with vitamins A and D, plus the B vitamins.
  • Black Pomfret
  • Surmayi
  • Singhara
  • Hilsa
  • Rohu
  • Shellfish: Although it’s high in cholesterol, the benefits of omega 3 far outweigh that.

Vegetarian? Here’s What You Should be Eating

Kavita recommends fats and oils of mustard seeds, methi seeds, urad dal, rajma, soybeans, lobia, walnuts, bajra. Additionally, olive, canola, flaxseed and walnut oils can also be used as your cooking medium.

If you still want to be doubly sure, she suggests another set of additions to your diet and they include increasing the intake of green, leafy vegetable like methi, mustard leaves, chawli leaves, spinach, along with nuts like walnuts and almonds.

Also, instead of completely doing away with dairy products, eggs and vegetable oils, try and consume them, even if in a limited quantity.

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