We partnered with Kori Pure Antarctic Krill Oil to shed light on how and why Americans don’t get enough omega-3s in their diets.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are types of fats that the body cannot make. Humans can only get them from food sources.
There are two classes of EFAs: omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Both types are important for staying healthy. But most people consume too many foods high in omega-6 fats and not enough foods high in omega-3 fats.
Read on to learn more about why most people in the US are generally not getting enough omega-3s and how to increase the amount of omega-3s in your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are types of fats that are only found in certain foods and supplements. There are three main types of omega-3 fats:
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)
DHA and EPA are found in foods like cold water fish, algae, and krill. ALA is found in plant foods like flax, walnuts, and canola oil.
Your body can use DHA and EPA right after consuming them.
But ALA needs to be converted to DHA and EPA in order for the body to use it for anything other than energy. When ALA is not converted to EPA or DHA, like any other dietary fat, it is stored or used for energy.
Also, the amount of ALA that is converted is quite small. Studies suggest that in people who eat a typical Western diet, only about 5 to 8 percent of ALA is converted to EPA. Even less converts to DHA, between 0.5 and 5 percent.
It is important to consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fats. Increasing your intake from eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and taking omega-3 supplements has been linked to several health benefits.
For example omega-3 support:
- Heart health. Research has shown benefits related to risk factors for heart disease.
- Brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids can support cognitive functions. Research has focused on diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Inflammatory conditions. Omega-3 fats can help regulate inflammation in the body.
- Eyesight. Research has focused on age-related macular degeneration and dry eye diseases, but the evidence is limited.
While several studies have shown the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, there is still a lack of quality research in some of these areas.
Although guidelines recommend combined DHA and EPA intake between 250 and 500 mg per day, people in the US consume much less. The average intake of EPA and DHA from food sources is around 90 mg in adults.
3 ounces of farmed Atlantic salmon contains approximately 1,240 mg of DHA per serving and 590 mg of EPA.
A 2019 study that analyzed data from 45,347 Americans found that omega-3 intake was lower than recommended amounts in all age groups. This shows that omega-3 insufficiency is common in the United States.
Additionally, most Americans have a dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratio between 10 and 1. to-1 and 25-to-1.
This is because people in the U.S. tend to eat more omega-6 rich vegetable oils like corn, sunflower, and soybeans, which are found in virtually all processed foods, and fewer omega-3 rich foods like fatty fish.
Omega-3 fats play a variety of important roles in the body.
They form molecules called eicosanoids that act as messenger substances in your body. These play critical roles in your immune, cardiovascular, endocrine, and pulmonary systems. Omega-3 fatty acids also provide the body with energy.
A high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is linked to an increased risk of developing a variety of health problems. This contains:
- inflammatory skin diseases
- increased risk factors for heart disease
- Metabolic syndrome
Risk factors for omega-3 deficiency
Although omega-3 deficiency or insufficiency has been shown to be common in people of all ages in the United States, true omega-3 deficiency is rare.
However, studies have shown that certain populations are at increased risk of eating a diet that is insufficient in omega-3 fats.
For example, in one study, researchers found that among other groups in adult and older women, omega-3 intakes were more likely to be below recommended levels.
People on very low fat diets, vegans, and people with malabsorption problems may also be at higher risk of omega-3 insufficiency.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be consumed from food sources. For those who do not consume oily fish on a regular basis, omega-3 supplementation is an alternative.
Foods rich in DHA and EPA include:
- oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, anchovies, tuna, sardines and herring
- Shellfish such as oysters, clams, and clams
- Caviar (fish eggs)
- Eggs, meat and dairy products from grazing animals contain small amounts
Foods rich in ALA include: *
- Walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds and flax seeds
- Soybean oil and soybeans
- Perilla and rapeseed oil
* Note that the body’s rate of conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is poor.
There are both plant-based and animal-based omega-3 supplements.
Krill oil, fish oil, algae oil, and cod liver oil are dietary supplements that are rich in DHA and EPA.
Kori Pure Antarctic Krill Oil capsules contain 250 mg of omega-3 EPA and DHA in a daily serving.
Algae oil is perhaps the best source of vegetable omega-3 fats because algae oil contains EPA and DHA, while other plant-based foods contain ALA, which is not efficiently converted to DHA and EPA by the body.
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential to good health.
However, most people in the United States consume too much omega-6 fatty acids and too little omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids is important as they support heart and brain health.
You can optimize your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and improve your overall health by increasing your intake of foods and supplements that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.