Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are a Complex Subject
Fats are a complex subject. Dietary fats fall into two major categories, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are like butter, and they are “saturated” with hydrogen, which makes them stiffer and solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats have less, and so are liquid at room temperature. In the unsaturated fats category, there's two types of fat known as “essential”, omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Essential means that the human body doesn't make it itself, and so it is a necessary part of the human diet.
There are 3 types of omega-3's. ALA or alpha-linolenic acid, EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA or docosahexaenoic acid.
Omega-3s have been highlighted in the media recently because of their anti-inflammatory action, their necessity for brain and nerve development and health, and their impact on behavior and memory. The list of other potential benefits, mostly revolving around their anti-inflammatory actions is long, but includes multiple methods of improving cardiovascular, joint, skin, lung, and mental health, among other things. Research continues, but what researchers do know is that getting enough omega-3s in one's diet should be a priority.
ALA typically comes from plant sources. Flaxseed is the riches sources, but ALA can be obtained from many other types of fats, including canola and soybean oils, and various seeds. ALA is not an incredibly efficient way to get omega-3's, but a consistent ALA source is a good way to get some of it into the diet.
DHA is being used heavily as a supplement in milk and prenatal vitamins in order to promote good brain development in children. It is naturally found in seafood and algae, particularly coldwater fish. EPA is also found in coldwater fish, and is also found in cod liver, herring, and halibut.
A combination of plant and seafood sources is recommended to insure that sufficient omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is present in a daily diet.
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