Omega 3 fatty acids
What are omega 3 fatty acids?
Omega 3 fatty acids are single or polyunsaturated fatty acids. You may be more familiar with them as “good fats”. They are also called essential fatty acids because they are essential for human life. The three most important omega 3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). As our body does not produce the fats itself, these unsaturated fatty acids must be consumed through food.
What is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids?
Fatty acids differ, among other things, in their degree of saturation. People frequently use the expressions of “bad” saturated fatty acids and “good” unsaturated fatty acids. But where does this distinction between “good” and “bad” come from?
Saturated fatty acids are not essential for humans since the body also manufactures them from other food ingredients such as glucose or protein.1 We consume saturated fats mainly through food: through animal foods such as meat and sausage, but also through vegetable foods such as coconut, coconut oil and palm oil.2
Unsaturated fatty acids are called “good fats” because they have a more favourable effect on cholesterol levels. Reducing the consumption of saturated fatty acids helps maintain normal blood cholesterol levels. Marine and plant-based sources of good unsaturated fatty acids include high-fat fish, vegetable oils and nuts.2
What types of omega 3 fatty acids are there?
The three essential fatty acids of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenic acid (DHA) are again divided into plant and marine-based omega 3 fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant-based omega 3 fatty acid, and eicosapentaenic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenic acid (DHA) belong to marine-based unsaturated fatty acids.
Where is plant-based omega 3 found?
The most important sources of ALA omega 3 include:3
- Vegetable oils such as linseed oil, rapeseed oil and soya oil
- Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, linseed and chia seeds
Where is marine-based omega 3 found?
Marine-based omega 3 sources (EPA and DHA) include:3
- Fish and seafood, especially high-fat cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines
Another essential: omega-6 fatty acids
In addition to omega 3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids are among the unsaturated fatty acids. They are also essential for our body. The polyunsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid (LA) belongs to the family of omega 6 fatty acids.
Where is omega 6 found?
The most important sources of omega 6 include:4
- Vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil and soya oil
- Cereals and seeds such as walnuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds
Consumption of omega 3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids via food
The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) recommends that young people and adults consume omega-6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids at a ratio of 5:1. More precisely, it is recommended that 2.5 percent of the daily energy supply comes from the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA) and 0.5 percent comes from the omega 3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).5
How can we maintain a healthy diet, while keeping a balance between omega 3 and omega-6 fatty acids? Healthy nutrition means diversity: To keep the essential fatty acids in balance, small changes in diet can help:
- According to the recommendation of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), people who eat fish are advised to serve fish on their plates once or twice a week.6 High-fat fish are great sources of omega 3.
- As an alternative to or as well as eating fish, fish oil can also be used more frequently during cooking.
- Vegetarians who do not eat fish can add linseed oil to their meals.
- Try to replace fatty foods with vegetables, fruit and fibre as much as possible. Reducing the consumption of saturated fatty acids helps maintain normal blood cholesterol levels.
- Fats of animal origin (butter, meat, eggs) can often also be replaced by vegetable fats found in nuts, seeds and vegetable spreads.
What effect do omega 3 fatty acids have on the body?
Omega 3 fatty acids can affect the cardiovascular system, our eyes and our vision. During pregnancy and up to the 12th month of life, omega 3 fatty acids can be important for the development of the child. Learn how omega 3 helps our body.
Effect on the cardiovascular system
Some omega 3 fatty acids support the function of our cardiovascular system as well as having other benefits. The essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) helps maintain normal blood cholesterol levels. Consuming the marine-based omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) also contributes to the normal function of the heart and helps maintain normal blood pressure. Omega 3 fatty acids also have a positive effect on blood fat levels: EPA and DHA help maintain normal blood triglycerides.
Effect on the eyes & vision
Some omega 3 fatty acids also have a positive effect on the eyes and vision. Docosahexaenic acid (DHA) helps to maintain normal vision.
The consumption of some sources of omega 3 not only has a positive effect on the eyes and vision, but also helps their normal development in infants and foetuses. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a valuable source of omega 3 for foetuses and growing children. When the mother consumes docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), this contributes to the normal development of the brain and eyes in the foetus or breast-fed infant.
Development of the brain
An adequate supply of some omega 3 fatty acids can also be important for the development of the child during pregnancy. When the mother consumes the essential fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), this contributes to the normal brain development of the foetus or breast-fed infant.
Effect on infants after birth
Consuming the unsaturated fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) contributes to normal eye development in infants up to 12 months of age. Essential fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA), are needed for the normal growth and development of children.
Essential fatty acids as a staple of a healthy diet
Even small changes in diet can help the body to absorb essential fatty acids naturally and to maintain the balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Try to make healthy sources of omega 3 and omega 6 part of your diet.
- https://www.gesundheit.gv.at/leben/ernaehrung/info/fette [↩]
- https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/ [↩] [↩]
- https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/ [↩] [↩]
- https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/no-need-to-avoid-healthy-omega-6-fats [↩]
- https://www.dge.de/wissenschaft/referenzwerte/fett/ [↩]
- https://www.dge.de/ernaehrungspraxis/vollwertige-ernaehrung/10-regeln-der-dge/ [↩]