You may have heard the words ‘Omega-3 fatty acids’ thrown around as a health food buzz word in ads and articles. But do you know what they actually are and why they’re so important?

What exactly are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a polyunsaturated fatty acid. Polyunsaturated fats, along with monounsaturated fats, are often called the healthy fats. This is because they can have a range of health benefits- unlike saturated fats which add excess kilojoules to your diet and increase your blood cholesterol levels.

There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids that our bodies need:
1) Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
2) Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
3) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

ALA is found in plant sources, such as nuts, seeds leafy greens and vegetable oils. EPA and DHA come mainly from oily fish, including salmon, blue mackerel and herring.

Why are they important?

Omega-3 fatty acids are important because they are vital in maintaining heart health. They may also be beneficial in helping control some autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as potentially playing a protective role in cancer. Links between Omega-3 fatty acids and mental health have also been demonstrated.

These molecules play a key role in maintaining the healthy structure and function of our cells, while also providing the building blocks for hormones that control blood clotting, blood vessel function, and inflammation.

However, omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats- this means that our body cannot produce them. Instead, we need to get them from our diet.

What can I do to ensure I get enough?

The Heart Foundation recommends a daily intake of one gram/per day of ALA and 250-500mg/day of EPA and DHA. For EPA and DHA fatty acids, this means consuming 2-3 serves of fish per week.

However, sometimes this is not feasible.

Taking supplements are another way you can ensure you get enough Omega-3 fatty acids every week. People who are at high risk of heart disease or are living with heart disease may benefit from taking Omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

So, Omega-3 fatty acids are most than just a buzz word! They’re a key part of our diets and play a fundamental role in keeping us healthy.