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Omega-What? A Quick Introduction to Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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Typically, people aren’t thrilled by eating things that have the word “fat” in their name, but in the case of omega-3 fatty acids, we have a lot to be excited about.

Imagine that omega-3’s are a family of healthy fats that our bodies cannot make on their own. This means we must eat enough omega-3 rich foods in order to keep our hearts working properly, our genes error-free and to optimize peak brain function. In this omega-3 family, there are 3 “siblings,” whose 3-letter names you may recognize from ads on cereal boxes, orange juices, baby formula, or vitamin supplements. These are:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid):The bossy big sister, ALA is found in a variety of commonly eaten foods, like vegetable oils (canola and soybean), walnuts, and flaxseeds. The average American diet tends to be low over-all in omega-3’s with the most omega-3’s from the diet coming from ALA, which is converted in the body into EPA and DHA.
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): The shy and often overlooked twins of the Omega-3 family, EPA and DHA are something of a dynamic duo and are often measured together because their benefits are not well understood apart. These two important fatty acids are found in their pure form primarily in cold-water fish, fish oil supplements, and certain algal extracts and are especially easy for the body to use. EPA and DHA are being used a great deal in research to determine their potential use in a variety of settings for both children and adults.

So why care about omega-3’s?

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About the Author

Dr. Rachel Blaine, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition professor at California State University, Long Beach whose research focuses on child feeding etc. She received her doctorate at the Harvard School of Public Health. She has years of experience supervising community health programs, freelance writing, conducting research, and developing nutrition educational materials and curricula. When she’s not working, Rachel loves experimenting in the kitchen with her family, and being active in her church and community.

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