There are a lot of different types of fats and fatty acids out there. Omega-3. Omega-6. Omega-9. The list is endless and confusing. However, if you're going to take the time to learn about and supplement with one kind of fat, I can't recommend Omega-3s enough. Without getting too technical, Omega-3's are made up of 3 fatty acids. EPA, DHA, and ALA. EPA and DHA are found in high concentration in fish, and ALA is found in some plant based foods. Of these 3, your body can't make EPA and DHA, which is why these 2 are known as essential fatty acids.
As I mentioned before, EPA and DHA are contained primarily in fish. ALA is contained in plants, flaxseed being one of the best sources. While ALA is a good fatty acid to ingest, if for no other reason than most of the plants that contain it also have a great deal of fiber, ALA is inferior to the other 2 fatty acids. The reason for this is when you ingest ALA from plant sources, your body must use enzymes to digest it and turn it into EPA and DHA. Since we are also eating other fats that require these same enzymes to digest them, we could essentially exhaust our enzyme resources to convert this ALA into the essential fatty acids we need. EPA and DHA do not require this type of enzyme digestion, therefore are the superior fatty acids and the ones we should be looking to ingest more frequently.
Now that I've hurt your brain with all the 3 letter acronyms, let me tell you why you should be including them in your diet:
- Cardiovascular Health: The biggest reason for having a diet rich in Omega-3 is the benefit to your heart. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce cholesterol, lower triglyceride levels, and help your heart beat at a normal pattern. As someone who has dealt with an arrhythmia in the past, I can tell you they're no laughing matter, and in some cases can cause death. I recommend getting all the protection you can!
- Brain Health: Studies have shown that supplementing with Omega-3s have been shown to improve memory, as well as help with mood disorders such as depression. Omega-3s have also been shown to help with cognitive decline due to dementia.
- Joint Health: The most noticeable difference without doing blood work or a study is this one. Omega-3s fight joint inflammation, and once they are a regular part of the diet, they practically make themselves into powerful anti-inflammatories. As someone who has had some joint problems related to obesity, I can attest to the joint relieving power of Omega-3s.
- Athletic Improvement: As it pertains to muscle building and better athletic performance, supplementing with high doses of Omega-3s can increase anabolic (muscle building) signals in the body. Omega-3 helps muscle fibers use fuel (fatty acids, glucose, etc) at their highest levels. All this equals out to increased performance and potential to gain lead mass.
As you can see, something as simple as having a couple servings of fish oil, eating fish itself, and eating plant sources high in Omega-3s can have huge benefits on your overall health. For general well being, consume in the neighborhood of just 2 grams of Omega-3s daily. If you're going for extra credit and trying to improve performance, 5 grams and up is recommended. There is almost no healthier fat than Omega-3s, so load up!