Omega-3 fatty acids – how they work and where to find themJanuary 29, 2020
The term “omega-3 fatty acids” has become increasingly popular in recent years. Books are written on the subject, omega-3 fatty acids are listed on certain foods and sold as dietary supplements. And there is a very simple reason for that:
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the human body – that much we can already reveal. In this article you will find out how they can be classified, which fat should be part of your diet and how you can easily include omega-3 fatty acids in your healthy breakfast.
- Does eating fat make you fat?
- What do omega-3 fatty acids do?
- Omega-3 fatty acids in the vegan diet
- Conclusion: Omega-3 fatty acids at a glance
Does eating fat make you fat?
Eating fat does not automatically make you fat! The key is to evaluate the quality of fats and to access the good ones that our body needs for metabolic processes. A particularly underestimated nutrient is omega-3 fatty acids, which are true all-rounders.
What are healthy fats?
There are different fats that can be classified according to the quality of their structure:
- mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids
- saturated fatty acids
- trans-fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids belong to the group of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
How many calories does fat have?
What all fatty acids have in common is their energy value. With 9 kcal/g, fat has the greatest calorific value, which is probably why many people are so cautious when eating fats. For comparison: carbohydrates and proteins have just under 4 kcal/g.
People who eat fatty foods run the risk of consuming more calories than they actually need. However, it must always be remembered that fat has a high degree of saturation, which is why 100g of salmon, for example, is more filling than 100g of cooked rice. The quantity and quality of the fat we consume is therefore crucial.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the body
In the field of nutritional science, the word essential means that a certain nutrient, such as omega-3 fat, is essential for the body. The paradox is that the body cannot produce this vital nutrient itself, which means that it must be supplied with food. But what are omega-3 fats actually and why are they so important for the human body?
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fats are a small group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for the body and must therefore be supplied through food.
A distinction is made between the following species, which can be found in both animal and plant sources:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
What do omega-3 fatty acids do?
The important omega-3 fatty acids are the starting substance for the construction of various structures in the body. The following positive properties are attributed to this fat:
- Omega-3 fatty acids are part of our immune system as they have anti-inflammatory effects. It is therefore recommended to increase the proportion of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, especially in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatism.
- Omega fats can also improve blood lipids by raising HDL cholesterol and lowering triglycerides.
- They promote the development of hormones.
- Omega-3 fatty acids also support the blood supply and help maintain cell flexibility.
- Omega fats also have a particularly positive effect on brain performance.
Omega-3 fatty acids – the brain food for better performance
As already mentioned, another positive property of the important omega-3 fatty acids is their effect on the brain. For example, omega-3 fats are found in the sheaths of the neurons, where they ensure that the transmission of stimuli is faster, i.e. impulses are transmitted faster at the synapses.
This is also the reason why walnuts, which contain many omega-3 fatty acids, are often called brain food, as they have a positive influence on our thinking and mental performance. Yes, omega-3 fatty acids and walnuts have really earned their positive reputation!
We have summarized how you additionally do good for your brain in our article “Brainfood – healthy nutrition for our brain“.
How much omega-3 fatty acids per day are healthy?
Since omega-3 fatty acids are only contained in selected foods, it is difficult to overdose. It is more important to cover the minimum of 0.5% of the energy requirement per day with omega-3 fatty acids. This corresponds to about 2-3 portions of fish per week. Since it is difficult for many people to cover the daily minimum, they resort to sometimes expensive food supplements, such as fish oil capsules. However, a sufficient supply of omega-3 fats is also possible by choosing the right foods.
Omega-3 rich food
In nature, omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in fish, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils. Linseed oil is particularly worthy to mention here, as it represents the best utilization in the body due to the 5:1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Other oils such as walnut, rapeseed or soybean oil are also sources of omega-3.
In the category of seeds, linseeds and chia seeds are optimal omega-3 suppliers, which can for example be easily added to muesli in the morning. Those who like to eat fish should put fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or tuna on the menu 2-3 times a week.
Omega-3 fatty acids in the vegan diet
The vegan diet explained briefly
People who follow a vegan diet completely avoid eating animal products. These include the rejection of meat, fish, eggs, milk and honey. Often vegans also don’t use products such as sheep’s wool or leather. Therefore, vegans must take a closer look at the essential nutrients. Thus, in a long-term vegan diet, vitamin B12 and vitamin D should be added through supplements. Since omega-3 fatty acids are also an essential nutrient, we will show you where to find vegan omega-3 sources.
Where do I find vegan omega-3 sources?
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in nature not only in fish but also in plants. This is because plants use them for cold regulation, which is why algaes, for example, also contain a large amount of omega-3 fats. A representative here is the red alga, which also serves as a food source for many marine animals.
Other vegetable sources are any kind of seeds that will round up your cereal or porridge as a topping. Hemp seeds, chia seeds and vegetable oils are suitable as omega-3 sources in the diet for vegans as well as for those who follow an omnivorous diet.
If you would like to try some of the chia seeds that have been so popular for several years, you can read all about preparing them and some of our favourite chia recipes here.
Conclusion: Omega-3 fatty acids at a glance
Omega-3 fatty acids are a small group within fats, more precisely they belong to the polyunsaturated fatty acids. Fats are by no means a nutrient that should be avoided. But it depends on the right selection, quantity and quality. Since the body cannot produce some of the essential fatty acids it needs itself, the intake of omega-3 fatty acids is very important. Through the conscious selection of omega-3-rich foods, such as fish, algae, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils, it is quite possible to cover daily requirements.
- Literaturquellen: Biesalski H., Bischoff S., Puchstein C, Stuttgart 2010, Thieme-Verlag: Ernährungsmedizin S.86 ff.
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