Taken from Wikipedia:
N−3 fatty acids (popularly referred to as ω−3 fatty acids or omega-3 fatty acids) are essential unsaturated fatty acids with a double bond (C=C) starting after the third carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain.
Uhhh…yeah. That didn’t help me the first time I read it either, so I’ve taken the liberty to translate all of that for us:
Fatty acids are essential to human development and growth from an early age. In adults, they help reduce or regulate our heart rate, blood pressure, and immune system. Omega 3’s are the most nutritionally dense fatty acid, and it’s easiest to get. Fatty acids, therefore, are good.
Ah, that’s better! There have been all kinds of elaborate studies conducted since the discovery of the fatty acid chains in the 1930’s by beaker-toting scientists and biologists in lab coats with full, glorious white mustaches and wild, Einstein-esque hair.
Experts have long acknowledged the benefits of fatty acids, and Omega 3’s in particular, to have a dramatic impact on the body’s ability to produce and store energy, move oxygen more efficiently through the bloodstream, and aid in the transportation of important vitamins and nutrients like triglycerides.
For a more comprehensive list of things omega 3’s are good at doing, check out this article BodyBuilding.com.
Sources (and alternatives) for getting your Omega 3’s
Eating just about any family of fish and other seafood is the most common, most reliable, and quickest way to get your omega 3 intake, but it’s not the only way. For vegetarians, those who are allergic, or those like my brother who simply can’t stand the sight or smell of seafood, you’ve got a lot of options!
Seeds – flaxseed, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, and even hemp seeds pack the omega 3’s in little packages. Best of all, they can be found in just about any grocery store or market you regularly visit. For some awesome ideas on what to do with hemp seeds, check out this article.
Nuts – Just about any nut you can eat is a great source of omega 3′s. But walnuts in particular are made up of about 6% ALA, the measurement of how much fatty acid a food contains.
Herbs – If you can get your hands on Perilla, a herb more commonly available in Asia that’s closely related to fennel, you’ll be putting tons of omega 3’s in your body. That’s because it’s ALA content is made up of 60% of fatty acids.
Leafy greens – although the dietary amount of omega 3’s is less in leafy greens than many other alternatives, they make the list thanks to the combination of their fatty acids and all the other vitamins, minerals, and healthy benefits leafy greens give us.
Supplements – supplements derived from sources like algae can be a great way to deliver your daily intake of omega 3’s. Most supplements are made using extractions from many different types of veggie and plant oils like those found in krill, corn, sunflower, and soy beans.
Note – if you haven’t read about this recently, it’s worth it to be aware: the media has been in upheaval since the October edition of the Journal of the American Media Association featured a study that suggested omega 3 supplements have been doing more harm than good on many users, especially for older women. Read the latest findings on Omega 3 supplement dangers here.
Other animal sources of omega 3’s
Omega 3 occurs naturally in all kinds of meat, from beef to chicken to lamb. Farm-raised cattle that feed naturally on grass have been shown to contain the most concentration of omega 3’s. Eggs are also a great source for this essential fatty acid.
Whatever your preferences, omega 3’s should be an important part of your everyday diet. Thankfully, it’s not too hard to find!