Healthy Stress Levels with Omega-3s

November 18, 2010

For many of us the holidays are the most stressful time of the year...

For many of us the holidays are the most stressful time of the year, house guests, cooking the holiday meals to please everyone in the family, overeating, shopping for last minute gifts, new years resolutions and more… but don't despair foods can come to the rescue. Omega-3s help improve the function and development of our mind and heart, and even help protect us from the harmful effects of stress. SupermarketGuru wanted to remind you of the many benefits of Omega-3 that may help you better react to the many stresses this holiday season. There are three main types of omega-3s to keep track of. The first two, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are found mainly in fish, so they’re sometimes called marine omega-3s. The third is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in plant-based foods, such as flaxseed, hempseeds, walnuts, and canola and soybean oils.

So far, the evidence for the health benefits of EPA and DHA is more extensive than for the plant-based ALA. Studies have shown that EPA and DHA, which are more readily absorbed by the body than ALA, offer some measure of protection against heart attacks and strokes. They also have anti-inflammatory effects that may be useful in preventing or treating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Adults and children should consume between 500 mg and 2,000 mg of Omega-3s per day. Though health experts had previously recommended eating fatty fish such as salmon twice per week, today’s fish may not be a reliable source of Omega-3s because more commonly available farmed fish have low levels due to the warmer temperature of the water and the lack of a specific microalgae in their diet. Also, pregnant women are discouraged from eating too much fatty fish because of the dangers of heavy metal contamination, i.e. mercury and water pollution.

That said, plant based ALA-rich oils are a healthful choice, especially if you are using them to replace trans or saturated fat. Some great sources include flaxseed oil (7,600 mg/Tbsp), canola oil (1555 mg/Tbsp), walnut oil (1460 mg/Tbsp), wheat germ oil (970 mg/Tbsp), and soybean oil (950 mg/Tbsp). Flaxseed oil, nature's most potent source of Omega-3s, can be found in most health food stores. Oils are best packaged in opaque containers and kept in the refrigerator because they can easily become rancid. Buy smaller containers kept refrigerated at all times. Flaxseeds or flaxseed meal is also an excellent option. Flaxseeds are not only high in Omega-3s, but they contain lignans which are cancer preventive. Add the nutty flavored flaxseeds to your favorite foods and be sure to chew them well to get to the oils inside. Flaxseed meal, like the oils, go rancid more rapidly, so keep it refrigerated as well.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume two servings of omega-3-rich fish (salmon, for example) per week, which works out to about 400 to 500 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA per day. People with heart disease are advised to double that, so their daily intake is 1,000 mg, or a full gram. Taking fish oil capsules is often the most practical way to get that amount of omega-3s. If you choose to take fish oil capsules, note that the amount of EPA and DHA provided is often only about a third of that listed on the front of the bottle. Check the Nutrition Facts label on the back for the actual amount. If you are on a plant based diet, thus only consuming ALAs, it is recommended to consume between 1,300-2,700 mg ALA per day to ensure adequate amounts are being converted to EPA and DHA.

If you’re like most people, you can probably assume that your intake of Omega-3s is low. Consciously adding rich sources of Omega-3s in your diet will insure that you’re getting the amount you need. High stressed individuals, people at risk for cardiovascular disease, pregnant women and young children especially, should consume a food source of Omega-3s daily. And even healthy people will benefit from eating adequate amounts of Omega-3s. Your brain needs food, too. Be smart and nourish it with Omega-3s, and have a healthy holiday season!

For more on Omega-3s click here.