by Sierra Fawn-Guay
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that support the structure and function of the brain, and are required for survival. The three main types of omega 3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
ALA is considered an essential nutrient; it cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed in the diet. Our bodies can use ALA to produce a small amount of DHA and EPA but what is produced is often less than we need for optimal health. Therefore, it is important that we also consume DHA and EPA through our diet.
Research suggests that DHA and EPA have greater benefits to overall health and brain health than ALA. While the exact reasons why DHA and EPA are beneficial are not well understood, it is thought that many of the benefits are related to decreased inflammation. DHA and EPA may help prevent chronic disease (such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke), prevent against age-related cognitive decline, improve cognition (especially memory, reaction time, and attention), improve mood (including lessening symptoms of anxiety and depression), and alleviate post-concussive symptoms (such as headaches and brain fog).
One principle of good nutrition states that, when possible, it is best to get nutrients from foods instead of supplements. Our bodies tend to prefer nutrients in natural forms and absorb and utilize nutrients from foods more efficiently. The Mediterranean and MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diets are thought to improve cognition and brain health, and both promote the intake of foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
There are several barriers to eating adequate amounts of foods rich in DHA and EPA. The best food sources of DHA and EPA are certain fishes like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Not everyone prefers to eat fish; it can be expensive and the fish could contain toxins like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). For people who do not eat several servings of fish per week, taking an omega 3 fatty acid supplement may be beneficial. It is important to talk to your doctor before starting a supplement of any kind. Recommendations for omega 3 fatty acid supplementation generally range from 1 to 3 grams of total DHA plus EPA per day. Sometimes, higher doses will be recommended for people with persistent health problems. Omega 3 fatty acids supplements are best taken with food and in small doses multiple times per day.
Omega 3 fatty acid supplements are sold in two main forms: ethyl esters and triglycerides. The ethyl ester form is often less expensive but is not broken down and absorbed by the body as efficiently as the triglyceride form. Additionally, the ethyl ester form is less stable and will have a shorter shelf life. For best results with supplementation, purchase omega 3 fatty acids in their triglyceride form. Always store omega 3 fatty acid according to package directions.
For one meal rich in DHA and EPA, try the recipe below.
Salmon, cut into individual serving sizes
Your favorite spice mix (I used a pre-made blend of red and black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and salt)
Place salmon, skin side up, in oven-safe cookware. Broil in oven until skin bubbles, about four minutes. Take salmon out of oven and use tines of fork to remove skin. Carefully flip salmon over. Sprinkle a thin layer of spice mix on top. Return salmon to oven. Cook until done and salmon flakes easily with fork, about four minutes. Serve with a side of leafy greens.