Fats or lipids are composed of specific hydrocarbons called fatty acids which fall into three categories depending on the shape of their molecules: industrially-produced trans fatty acids, saturated fatty acids and natural-source unsaturated fatty acids. (1)
The first two types should be avoided as much as possible as they have been widely shown to promote cardiovascular disease(2). Unsaturated fatty acids, however, play a crucial role in helping the body to function normally. They include:
According to Anses, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, omega-3 are “indispensable for normal growth and the physiological functions of cells, but cannot be synthesised by humans or animals or synthesised in sufficient quantities to meet the body’s needs. They must therefore be provided by the diet”(4).
In fact, omega-3 fatty acids help to maintain normal:
Given that the diet already provides sufficient omega-6 and omega-9, we need to focus on increasing our omega-3 intake from the diet, aiming for at least (7):
Flax is the primary dietary source of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Flaxseeds, or linseeds as they’re also known, actually contain almost 17g of ALA per 100g. Flax can be consumed in two ways to benefit from its ALA content:
As well as being delicious and easy to store once harvested in the autumn, nuts are also an excellent source of omega-3. Fresh nuts contain an average 7.5g of ALA per 100g and nut oil, 12g per 100g.
Note, however that:
Like linseeds, chia seeds are considered to be super-foods and have been very much in vogue for several years now. And justifiably so: they’re an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids: 100g of chia seeds provides almost 18g of ALA.
Note, however, that it’s important to add liquid to chia seeds in order to benefit from their properties. It is best to leave them to soak overnight in the refrigerator, in either water, milk or plant milk, to form a kind of nutritious porridge which is excellent for health.
Rapeseed oil is also an excellent source of ALA which has the added advantage for those who like it, of being largely produced in Europe, meaning it has not travelled thousands of miles before ending up on our plates. Rapeseed oil provides an average 7.5 g of ALA per 100g but once again, it is very high in calories.
In terms of omega-3, plant-source foods only provide ALA, and while ALA is a precursor of EPA and DHA, the conversion process is not very effective. In other words, the body produces very little DHA and EPA from the ALA contained in plant-source foods. What’s more, animal-source omega 3 fatty acids are much better absorbed by the body, which is why we need to eat the following foods to ensure a good intake of omega-3.
Raw salmon is a very good source of omega-3, providing just over 1g of DHA per 100g. The problem is that like many oily fish, salmon accumulates heavy metals and other pollutants and it’s therefore important not to eat too much.
Mackerel is undoubtedly the top performer when it comes to omega-3. 100g of mackerel provides 2.5g of DHA and almost 3g of EPA. Whether fresh and grilled, or canned, you should try to eat mackerel at least once a week.
Note however: if you eat canned mackerel, be aware that the omega-3s tend to leach out into the preserving oil. It’s therefore best to eat both the mackerel fillets and the accompanying oil.
Like their mackerel cousins, sardines also have a good omega-3 content, providing an average 1.7g of DHA per 100g.
Our grandmothers swore by it and the majority of over-60s would have been forced to take it as children: cod liver oil is rich in vitamins and omega-3.
To boost your intake of the omega-3 fatty acids ALA, EPA and DHA, you could also start taking a course of supplements. But which should you choose?
This shrimp-like crustacean which forms the bulk of the diet of marine mammals with baleen is a miracle of nature rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. And being at the start of the food chain, it does not accumulate pollutants like salmon or other fish. One way of benefitting from its properties is to take the supplement Krill Oil.
Calanus is another type of zooplankton rich in omega-3… which is actually eaten by krill! We’re going even further back in the food chain when we consume calanus oil, for example, in the form of the supplement Arctic Plankton Oil (also rich in stearidonic acid (SDA), astaxanthin...)
Last but not least, you could opt for a totally purified fish oil, with high levels of EPA and DHA. One small tip: to gain maximum benefit from the omega-3s, make sure it’s a supplement with a TOTOX (total oxidation) value of less than 10, such as the product Super Omega 3.
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