Get hooked on omega-3 fats

31 Jul

Written by: Kaitlin Roke

What are omega-3 fats anyway? Why should I care about omega-3 fats? These are questions I have tried to answer countless times for both friends and colleagues! To answer these questions, we need to start with some general information about dietary fats.

There are 4 main types of dietary fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans. These names might sound a bit strange, but they provide important clues about the different types of fats. Each of these names refers to the structure of the fat. Saturated tells us that each of the molecules are full, which makes them straight in structure. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated tells us about the number of double bonds, where mono means one and poly means more than one. Trans refers to the direction of the molecular bonds. The more double bonds in a fat, the more bent its structure. As it turns out, the more bent the fat structure, the more fluid the fats usually are at room temperature. This can be seen directly in the foods you eat. For example, butter is rich with saturated fats, while olive oil is rich with monounsaturated fats.

Omega-3 fats are an example of polyunsaturated fats. However, there is a difference between omega-3 fats from plant sources (named alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) and marine sources (named eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA). ALA is commonly found in certain vegetable oils, walnuts, flaxseeds and soy products, while EPA and DHA can be found in fatty fish (like salmon) and seafood, as well as some fortified products like certain brands of milk and eggs [1].

The reason why we should care about omega-3 fats (specifically EPA and DHA) is because there have been numerous studies highlighting their beneficial health effects [2,3]. These health effects range from improving heart health (in other words, reducing risk of heart disease) [4], brain health (higher IQ score, better memory and mood) [5], as well as whole body health including reduced inflammation [5] and triglyceride levels [7]. This is a pretty long list! Omega-3 EPA and DHA fats seem to be miracle nutrients.

After knowing all of the health benefits, it seems obvious that everyone should try to get more EPA and DHA in their diet. But, do we? Actually, as a population, Canadians consume little to none of these omega-3 fats in our typical diet [8]. One reason is because these types of fats are found mainly in fish and seafood, which many people don’t choose as favourite foods. This could also be partly because there aren’t many quick and easy-to-eat seafood options, in a time where convenient meals are increasingly prevalent.

The Dietitians of Canada [1] have put together a great list of food sources high in omega-3 EPA and DHA fats. For example, one suggestion would be to try having salmon for dinner one night this week. As we are in the summer months, fish on the barbeque can be delicious and easy. Are you going to a pot luck or backyard party? Bring a dip with tuna! If you sneak in some fish with your cheese dip, you are getting a delicious (and nutritious) appetizer, see recipe suggestions below!



  1. Dietitians of Canada
  2. Cleland, L.G.; James, M.J.; Proudman, S.M., Fish oil: What the prescriber needs to know. Arthritis Research and Therapy 2006, 8, 202.
  3. Harris, W.S., Fish oil supplementation: Evidence for health benefits. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 2004, 71, 208-221.
  4. Kris-Etherton, P.M.; Harris, W.S.; Appel, L.J., Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology 2003, 23, e20-e30.
  5. Morales, E.; Bustamante, M.; Gonzalez, J.R.; Guxens, M.; Torrent, M.; Mendez, M.; Garcia-Esteban, R.; Julvez, J.; Forns, J.; Vrijheid, M., Genetic variants of the fads gene cluster and elovl gene family, colostrums lc-pufa levels, breastfeeding, and child cognition. PloS one 2011, 6, e17181.
  6. Wall, R.; Ross, R.P.; Fitzgerald, G.F.; Stanton, C., Fatty acids from fish: The anti‐inflammatory potential of long‐chain omega‐3 fatty acids. Nutrition reviews 2010, 68, 280-289.
  7. Laidlaw, M.; Holub, B.J., Effects of supplementation with fish oil–derived n− 3 fatty acids and γ-linolenic acid on circulating plasma lipids and fatty acid profiles in women. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2003, 77, 37-42.
  8. Health Canada

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