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A well-balanced and nutritious diet is key to happy, healthy living. To optimize your health, it's crucial to include the proper serving of daily healthy fats, especially omega-3s.
Omega-3s are among the most sought-out dietary fats. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are crucial as they play a variety of roles. They’ve gained attention due to their associations with improved health and longevity.*
As with any nutrient, you want to make sure that you’re getting the correct daily dosage to maximize your health. So what exactly do omega-3 fatty acids do, and how much should you be getting in your diet if you want to reap the rewards?
The Importance of Omega-3s
Omega-3s are a type of healthy fat that plays various roles in your brain and body.
Since your body can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids, it's imperative to source them from foods, dietary supplements, or a mix of both.
The three main omega-3 fatty acids that you want to look out for and include in your diet are:
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is an important healthy fat for brain development as well as for its anti-inflammatory properties*
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which helps to reduce blood clotting and may also have anti-inflammatory properties*
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that can be found in certain plant-based foods and which needs to be converted into DHA or EPA before your body can use it
Altogether, there’s plenty of evidence that getting an adequate amount of these three omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can positively affect various systems in your body.
The Health Benefits of Omega-3s
People take omega-3 supplements for many reasons, and all of those reasons have to do with improving health.
Many of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids come from their anti-inflammatory properties.* Inflammation is your body’s natural response to fight off any potential threats to your health – for example, in the cases of acute sickness or injury. Unfortunately, this immune response isn’t always a good thing. Under certain conditions, inflammation can make your body attack its own cells. If left unchecked, it can even lead to severe and chronic health issues.
Because omega-3 fatty acids play roles throughout your entire body, supplementing your intake may be good for*:
- Boosting your heart health
- Aiding brain health and development
- Fighting inflammation that could lead to chronic conditions
- Boosting mental health
- Supporting your immune system
There’s also evidence suggesting that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can be beneficial for other things, including developmental support for expecting mothers, healthier skin, and a healthy sleep cycle.*
How Much Omega-3 Per Day?
Since getting omega-3 fatty acids in your diet has several benefits, it begs the question: how much omega-3 do I need per day?
The answer: It can depend. Your optimum omega-3 intake can vary widely based on any current health conditions you may have.
There currently isn’t enough evidence for setting an official recommended intake for daily omega-3s. However, we have some guidelines to go off to ensure that you’re getting the omega-3s you need.
At a minimum, you should be getting an adequate intake (or AI), which is set by the Food and Nutrition Board when there isn’t enough evidence to set a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for a nutrient. Meeting the AI for any nutrient means that you should be getting enough of it to ensure nutritional adequacy.
According to the Dietary Reference Intake from the National Academy of Medicine, the AI for omega-3s is:
- Men: 1.6 grams
- Women: 1.1 grams (with higher requirements during pregnancy or breastfeeding)
However, that’s assuming that all things are equal and that you’re healthy. Some studies have also suggested that different health conditions can benefit from different omega-3 dosages.
It’s important to note that “omega-3s” doesn’t necessarily mean EPA/DHA. Since EPA and DHA are the more beneficial Omega-3s versus ALA, this is worth paying attention to when you’re shopping around.
So it might be a better question to ask how much EPA and/or DHA per day you need.
- For example, the American Heart Association recommends that you get around 1 gram of combined EPA and DHA per day. There is evidence that getting around this amount daily can reduce the mortality associated with heart disease.*
- On the other hand, pregnant women would benefit more from getting an average of 200 mg of DHA per day to help with their baby’s development.*
So you may need to get more omega-3s than just the recommended Adequate Intake, and the quality of your omega-3 supplementation matters as well.
This is why it’s so important to consult with your physician before starting any supplement regimen. They can suggest the correct amount and type of omega-3s for you and any current conditions you may have. You’ll also want to check with your physician if you’re taking other medications to avoid any potential adverse interactions.
Excessive Omega-3 Intake: Risks Involved
While it’s important to get the right amount of EPA and DHA, more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
No evidence suggests taking more omega-3s than recommended can lead to more health benefits. On the flip side, too much can actually hurt your immune system.
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to deal with acute sicknesses, illness, and injury. If you get sick or injured, you need inflammation for your body to fight, heal, and recover. Taking too much omega-3s may lead to a suppressed immune system and leave you more vulnerable to contracting those acute illnesses and/or slowing down your recovery time. *
Going over your omega-3 daily intake limit can also lead to increased bleeding (since EPA lowers your blood clotting) and a potentially increased risk of having a stroke.
How To Get Enough Omega-3s
Now that you know that you need to get the right amount of omega-3s daily, how do you do it?
Your body doesn’t make omega-3s on its own, which means that there are two ways you can get your daily omega-3s: diet and supplementation.
DHA and EPA are most commonly acquired in your diet from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna. The American Heart Association recommends that you get at least two servings of fish per week because of their invaluable omega-3 stores and the positive effect that they can have on your heart health,
However, this isn’t always a feasible dietary recommendation for everyone. As an alternative, fish oil pills are a very popular option for getting your omega-3s. However, this still isn’t the best option for people who can’t have fish at all.
Remember, your body can’t use ALA on its own, which means that it must first be converted into DHA and EPA to reap the benefits.
You would have to eat quite a few ALA-rich foods every day to meet your omega-3 intake goals. Even then, the conversion process isn’t nearly as efficient as getting EPA and DHA directly. Studies show that the conversion process doesn’t produce very much DHA at all.
This means that your plant-based diet likely isn’t going to be enough on its own to get enough omega-3s. Your best solution would be to take a vegan supplement that doesn’t use fish oils while still providing enough EPA and DHA to bolster your health.
Algae Oil Supplements
Luckily, the best omega-3 alternative for fish oil pills also happens to be a plant-based, vegan-friendly supplement.
Oily fish are such a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids because they eat plenty of algae, which are actually the primary producers of these valuable fatty acids. So rather than eating fish or taking fish oil pills to get your omega-3 fatty acids, you can get them directly from the same source that the fish do by taking algae oil supplements.
Algae oil supplements are an excellent solution for any diet because they are:
- Plant-based: Microalgae are photosynthetic organisms that produce omega-3 fatty acids. They’ve become a viable source for supplementing omega-3 intakes because they are rich in both EPA and DHA, the most beneficial and anti-inflammatory types of these healthy fatty acids.
- Environmentally friendly: Besides the fact that algae oil supplements don’t use any animals or contain any animal by-products, they’re also a much more earth-friendly option than fish oil pills. Microalgae can be sustainably isolated, grown, and harvested, eliminating the damaging effects that overfishing can have on marine ecosystems.
Algae Oil makes a great substitute for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone else who can’t eat fish but still want to reap the benefits of an adequate omega-3 intake.
The bottom line: your body requires a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids every day, and you want to make sure that you’re specifically getting enough EPA and DHA to get the job done.