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Alpha to omega

Ever been a bit confused about which omegas you should be taking and how best to include them in your diet? Rude Health explains

Cold or cook?

“Omega-3 oils contain essential fatty acids which cannot be produced by the body but are important for maintenance and normal functioning of the body’s systems. They should be taken cold, organic and cold pressed if possible,” says Bernie Gaffney of Nature’s Options in Newbridge, Co Kildare.

“Omega-3 fish oils are not intended to be used in cooking,” says nutritional therapist Olive Curran of PPC. “They are very expensive and you wouldn’t like to damage fish oil omega-3s EPA and DHA with heat.”

“You should never mix up your cooking oils with your cold pressed oils such as extra virgin olive oil,” says Yvonne Deegan of Von’s Health Store in Limerick. “These oils should only be used for dressings, smoothies or to drizzle over your meal and kept cold.”

Health benefits

“Omega oils protect us from cardiovascular disease, contribute to the normal function of the heart and improve blood circulation which contributes to the maintenance of normal blood pressure,” says Bernie Gaffney. “They support your joints and improve skin and hair health. Young and old can benefit from taking omega oils, because they contain essential fatty acids and our bodies cannot make them.”

“The benefits of omega oils are ten-fold,” says Yvonne Deegan, “and everybody should be taking them from an early age. These include healthy, hydrated skin (can help with problematic skin such as acne, dermatitis); brain function, concentration and focus; joint health (keeping the joints mobile and the omegas are naturally anti-inflammatory); can help improve your energy; healthy blood eg. blood pressure/cholesterol (as the omegas are good fats they can help improve blood flow); and anti-ageing (can help smooth out the fine lines, keeping the skin looking radiant).”

“Both omega-3 and omega-6 are considered essential, however the western diet contains high levels of omega-6 and very little omega-3,” says Olive Curran. “The best source of omega-3 is oily fish (sardines, salmon, anchovies, fresh tuna and mackerel). Oily fish provides the most beneficial and active fatty acids, commonly referred to as EPA and DHA. A massive 89% of Irish people do not consume sufficient oily fish in their diet, so need to take a good quality omega-3 fish oil. There is more scientific evidence behind the cardiovascular benefits of fish oil than any other nutritional supplement. Thousands of clinical studies have shown that increased intake of EPA and DHA – the omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oil – enhance overall cardiovascular function.”

The best form

“Liquid is better absorbed by the body,” says Bernie Gaffney. “However some people prefer capsules. Omega-3 oils do not have a fishy taste compared to the strong-tasting cod liver oil of the past.”

“As your body needs 250mg EPA and DHA to support heart function and a massive 250mg DHA for brain and eye function, it is best to take omega-3 as a fish oil in liquid form,” says Olive Curran. “Often omega-3 capsules contain too little DHA to meet these requirements.”

“Your supplement omegas can be taken as a liquid or in a capsule,” says Yvonne Deegan. “Liquid is always better, but not everybody can take it in this form, so capsules are a good option. Omega supplements are available in all health food stores and should be taken by everybody. Children can take liquid in their breakfast. The early years are very important for a child’s brain development and they need a good source of DHA. There are plenty of omega oils to choose from as a complex or single such as krill or salmon or halibut.”

Who should take omegas?

During pregnancy – take omega-3 daily. DHA is required for foetal brain and eye development. In infancy, the baby continues to require DHA for brain development.

School-going children – take omega-3s for memory and concentration. DHA is like brain nutrition. It helps to improve learning, mood, memory and concentration.

Teenagers – take omega-3 and healthy omega-6 GLA to help boost brain power and regulate hormones and balance mood.

Adults – take omega-3 daily for the following health benefits:

  • Maintain heart function
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Support brain and eye function
  • Ideal for joints and skin health

Alpha to omega

The ability to absorb the beneficial components of fish oil is based on its form. The more natural the structure, and the less it has been chemically altered, the better.

Natural triglyceride oil – oil as you would obtain if you squeeze the fish and extract the natural oil directly. Highly bioavailable.

Ethyl ester oil – chemically modified to achieve higher levels of EPA and DHA. Bio-availability is lower than natural triglyceride oils.

Synthetic triglyceride oil – when natural triglycerides are converted to ethyl esters for concentration, but then re-converted into synthetic triglycerides. The molecule’s structure is altered, which impacts the bioavailability of the oil.

Krill oil – technically not a fish, but a crustacean. Krill oil is marketed as being 20% better absorbed than fish oil, however it offers as little as 25% of the EPA/ DHA available in fish oil.

While Krill oils contain approx 250mg omega-3 in a daily dose, fish oils offer 1000mg + omega-3.

Choose a natural triglyceride oil to enjoy superior absorption and high EPA/ DHA so your body can utilise the oil for maximum benefits.

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