Omega-3 fatty acids are among the essential nutrients. This means that the body must obtain them from food and cannot produce them itself, which is why they were previously called vitamin F. In the following article, we will explain the function of omega-3 fatty acids, what good omega-3 sources are and how you can check whether you are consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids.
What is the function of omega-3 fatty acids in the body?
Fatty acids can be differentiated in several ways. A frequently used but outdated categorization is the division into vegetable and animal fats. This was intended to provide consumers with a simple system that distinguished between good (vegetable) and bad (animal). In reality, however, it is not quite that simple.
Vegetable and animal fats both consist of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, although the distribution is weighted differently. Animal fats often contain a higher proportion of saturated fats, which in the past gave them a bad reputation. However, if you pay attention to your calorie balance and eat a varied diet, there is no reason to avoid animal fats on principle.
More meaningful is the already mentioned distinction between saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. While the first representatives are used for energy production, polyunsaturated fatty acids serve in the body primarily as building material. The two most important representatives are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers three and six describe where the fatty acid first has an unsaturated compound, counting from the last carbon atom, the omega position. This then also explains the name of the two fatty acids. But this distinction is not just wastepaper. Polyunsaturated fatty acids not only serve as building material for cell walls, but also form the basis of so-called eicosanoids, which are hormone-like substances.
Whereas hormones have to be formed at one point in the body (e.g. thyroid or adrenal gland) and finally transported to the site of action, eicosanoids act as signal molecules in the respective cell, which produces them itself. One function of these signaling molecules is to control inflammation in the body. While omega-6 fatty acids are processed into pro-inflammatory signaling substances, omega-3 fatty acids serve as the basis for anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. In this context, it should be emphasized that inflammation is generally not a bad thing.
In the body, inflammation ensures that the corresponding areas are supplied with more blood and protected with helpers from the immune system. After all, inflammation first arises where injuries occurred. It is therefore important that the body has substances that can both start inflammation and inhibit inflammation. This only becomes a problem when the promoting and inhibiting eicosanoids are imbalanced.
What to look for in an omega-3 source?
The crucial ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids depends not only on the pure intake, but also on the type of source. In the body, both fatty acids still need to be further processed to become eicosanoids. The two types of fatty acids therefore compete with each other, and if the omega-6 intake is too high, fewer omega-3 fatty acids will be further processed. A good choice, therefore, is fish oil, which is already rich in the downstream processes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are necessary for the production of the messenger substances.
Vegetable omega-3 fatty acids usually do not contain EPA and DHA, but a third form, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). However, only 0.1 to 0.5 percent of this is processed into DHA, making it a less suitable source. While the protein requirement can thus be easily covered by means of vegan protein sources, the sufficient Omega-3 supply turns out to be difficult with the help of vegetable fats. Walnuts, for example, which are often mentioned as a good vegetable source of omega-3, also contain a lot of omega-6 fatty acids and thus do not provide a balance. But also sunflower oil or margarine often contain many omega-6 fatty acids, so that at the latest now it should be clear why vegetable fats are not overall better than animal fats.
One animal food that is often highlighted as a good source of omega-3s is fatty fish like salmon. So, lean tuna fillet (from a can) is not an omega-3 source, as some exercisers always assume. It is also important to know that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids is subject to natural fluctuations. Fish, like humans, do not produce omega-3 fatty acids themselves, but can only accumulate them depending on what they are fed. It is difficult to judge how high the proportion of EPA and DHA finally is. In the literature, one finds figures of up to 2.5 grams per 100 grams of salmon, which is admittedly a large amount. At the same time, however, it is repeatedly emphasized that this value has decreased more and more in recent years.
Another disadvantage of the whole thing is that not everyone likes to eat fatty fish several times a week, especially since salmon is not necessarily cheap. Besides the fact that you do not know how the fish you buy was fed, you should also take into account the natural fluctuations already mentioned. The last thoughts should not be misunderstood. Salmon is a good source of omega-3, but it is not the best and, above all, the most practical solution for everyone. Omega-3 fatty acids in capsule form represent a sensible alternative. Just two to three capsules per day are a good basis for an adequate supply.
In addition, our capsules contain the high-quality triglyceride form of fish oil. In contrast, many inexpensive products use an ethyl ester that can only be poorly absorbed by the body. Omega-3 capsules are thus a very good source of the essential fatty acids if you pay attention to high quality.
How do I know if I am taking in enough omega-3 fatty acids?
However, the above leads to one final question: how do I know if I am getting enough omega-3 fatty acids? This is where an examination of the omega-3 index value can help.
For this purpose, the content of EPA and DHA is measured in the red blood cells and not in the blood serum. This procedure allows a longer-term statement about sufficient omega-3 intake than, for example, determining the current blood value. In the course of the evaluation of corresponding laboratories, one receives a detailed evaluation of the omega-3-omega-6 ratio, which costs about 50 euros after the blood has been taken from the doctor beforehand. If you want to save the costs, you should pay attention to a balanced diet and use two to three Super Omega-3 capsules per day. This should usually lead to optimal values so that the body is sufficiently supplied at all times.