A while back now, I dedicated an article to Omega-7’s as they’re one of the unsung heroes in the Fatty-Acid-World… But today, we’re peering behind the veil of one of the most widely *heard of*, but perhaps not so “well-known” nutrients out there; Omega-3’s are like those super-star actors/actresses that we’ve seen in a ga-jillion movies, but in reality, we know next to nothing about. So, today we’re stepping into their crib to take a look around!
Now, when it comes down to the Omega-3 Fatty Acids, there are… well… THREE of them that we need to distinguish between.
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
If you read my article – The Six Best Supplements for Weight Loss – then you’ll have noticed I talked about the last two here, but made no mention of the first one. The simple reason for the omission [in that article] is two-fold:
Firstly, when people look for an Omega-3 supplement, nine times out of ten it’s going to be a Fish Oil that they find / or are recommended in the shop (if they hit up a Supplement Store). The only exception being if someone is Vegan and strictly looking for a non-animal source of Omega-3.
The second reason is that Alpha Linolenic Acid – to a small extent – can actually convert into both EPA & DHA in the body; the majority will be used by the body for energy purposes, but there is a small percentage that can be turned into the other two forms. Ergo, the body seems to have an innate preference for the two latter forms anyway.
So, as you may have extrapolated from that – ALA (or Alpha Linolenic Acid) is mostly found in plant-based sources. The most common ones you’ll see being touted for their über-rich ALA content being: Flaxseed, Chia Seed and Walnuts. ALA can be found in Eggs, but this is only when the chickens have been fed a diet high in “Flax-feed”… it’s like they say, ‘You are what you eat – and apparently the same goes for chickens!’.
Note: Eggs can also list EPA & DHA, so check the label if you really want to know which you’re getting.
But before I dive into EPA & DHA here, I just want to make a super important distinction between ALA and… well… “ALA”. See, we have Alpha Linolenic Acid – the Omega-3 that we’re discussing in this article – and then we have Alpha *Lipoic* Acid, which is an antioxidant found in foods such as Tomatoes, Carrots, Red Meat, Beets and Broccoli. So, it’s important not to confuse the two as they each play very different roles in the body, and you’ll want very different amounts in your diet!
When it comes to the Lipoic form (the antioxidant), you only need a couple of hundred milligrams per day. It’s most notable function is that it helps in the utilization of glucose for energy. The Linolenic form (the Omega-3) on the other hand, IS a form of energy, but also acts as an anti-inflammatory. You can take as much as a couple of *grams* per day and this will be beneficial. In other words, you need ten times more of one than the other, thus rendering the relevance of discerning one from the other pretty much paramount.
One thing I like to do with my protein shakes [sometimes] is to add in a couple of tablespoons of Flaxseed in there, which will usually yield roughly 2+grams of ALA, and with that I’m covered.
So, then we have Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Typically, the best source of these is going to come from oily fish like Salmon, as well as Tuna, Mackerel and Sardines. However, in recent years Krill Oil has also garnered a lot of attention as an alternative source – krill being a deep sea crustacea that has been found to be rich in Omega-3.
You’ll find that most references to Omega-3 [for dietary purposes] are in regards to EPA and DHA as these are the two that have the most health benefits for humans, and seeing as how ALA is mostly used for energy or just converted to the other forms anyway, it just seems more efficient to shoot for the “end-product” (so to speak).
Now, one thing to understand about Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid is that they require Phospholipids for effective absorption. We have Phospholipids inside us already – they’re protein-lipid complexes that form membranes around virtually every cell in the body (so, as you can guess – they’re seriously important). But one thing we need in our diet for the effective production and processing of these Phospholipids is: Choline.
Hold up! Hold… UP. Okay, I know – we’ve just swerved our way into a hairpin turn here… Hopping, skipping and jumping a little too far ahead, maybe? Let’s reign it in.
So, what we’re saying is that EPA & DHA are super vital to our health. Consuming them is crucial for several things, such as:
Decreased risk of Heart Disease
Reducing the effects of conditions like Hypertension, Joint Pain and Arthritis
And [potentially] aiding in Weight Loss
But for any of that to be effective, we have to check off other boxes also. And Choline is one of those boxes…
See, Choline is a constituent of Lecithin. You might remember I mentioned soy lecithin in my article – The Seven Best Supplements for Building Lean Muscle – and I said it was “bad”. Let me just clear that one up now: Lecithin itself is not what I take issue with, and in fact, we *need* this! It’s SOY being the source that I have a problem with, and that’s owing to its [potential] oestrogen-boosting effects, which is no good when we need *testosterone* levels to be high (in the context of building muscle); but also there’s the fact that it is essentially used as an “emulsifier”, and can have negative effects like nausea, constipation and bloating (among other things).
We need about 400-600mg of Choline, which is conducive to seeing it work its magic in the body (on the Phospholipids), which in turn, will improve the uptake of EPA & DHA… so there ya go – tying it all together at last.
Three of the best sources of Choline are: Salmon, Chickpeas and Eggs. In the case of the first and last [there], you’ve got a 2-for-1 “double whammy” in the fact that you’ll have both Choline AND Omega-3 present, thus one will facilitate the absorption of the other.
In case you haven’t read The Six Best Supplements for Weight Loss, here’s how much EPA and DHA you want to get in your diet (be it from Fish Oil supplements, or eating actual whole foods that contain them): You’ll want about 3g of the two together, so 1.5g of each. You can find supplements that provide up to 750mg of each [per capsule], so a few of those will be perfect!
And again, a couple of grams of ALA will be all you need too – just remember to distinguish this as the Omega-3, and not Alpha Lipoic Acid (the antioxidant).
That’s all for today’s post – pretty concise really. You’ll now know how much of each of these Omega-3’s you want to be getting daily, which come mostly from plant sources and which are from animal sources; and most importantly, why they’re important to include in your diet.
I’ll catch you in the next post – which will be for CXP Edge – when we’ll be looking at Three Micro Nutrients You DON’T Want to Find in Your Multivitamin!
In the meantime, remember: Eat Healthy, and Eat Smart!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO