The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fats: Cognitive Improvement and More

The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fats: Cognitive Improvement and More

Omega-3 fatty acids have been getting a ton of press lately, but do they deserve the hype? Unlike other fad vitamins or nutrients, the answer here is a resounding "YES!". Omega-3 fats play a variety of useful roles in the body. The catch, however, is that unlike other nutrients, omega-3's are not made in your body, so you have to get them through your diet. There are a number of ways to increase your intake of omega-3's - and given their health benefits, it's worth the effort.

What Are The Health Benefits?

Omega-3 fatty acids are actually a group of several fatty acids. For the chemistry whizzes here, omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids with a double bond at the third carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain. For normal people, omega-3 fatty acids are a group of fatty acids commonly found in plant and fish oils. There are three types most involved in human physiology: ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is primarily found in plant sources like nuts and seeds; EPA and DHA are primarily found in certain fish.

  • Blood fat. Having high blood fat (triglyceride) levels puts you at increased risk of heart disease. The omega-3's found in fish - EPA and DHA - can help moderate elevated triglyceride levels.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. One of the huge benefits of omega-3's is their contribution to joint health; they can curb stiffness and joint pain.
  • Cognitive improvement. Studies have shown that fish oil can mitigate ADHD symptoms in children, including improved memory and learning. In the elderly, too, omega-3's can have huge congitive benefit. In particular, some research has shown that omega-3's protect against Alzheimer's and dementia, slowing the decline in cognitive function.

How Can I Get More?

Omega 3's are present in a variety of foods. A few foods stand out as having a particularly high concentration of omega-3s. As mentioned above, ALA is found primarily in in plant oils. The top sources are flax seeds, walnuts, and mustard seeds. On the other hand, EPA and DHA are found primarily in fish oils. The top sources here are sardines and salmon. Here are two great recipes that will help you get more omega-3's. The first contains flax seeds and will help you get your ALA fix, while the second is a great salmon dish and will help you get more EPA and DHA.

Toasted Oatmeal with Strawberry Chia Jam

Toasted Oatmeal

Each component is delightful on its own, but they just so happen to combine marvelously well in one breakfast bowl. Nutty, fruity, creamy - yes, more, please.

See full recipe here.

Mirin Glazed Salmon

Mirin Glazed Salmon

This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson. It's an elegant and remarkably easy dish, one that completely belies the amount of effort on your part.

See full recipe here.


Supplements are very controversial. As a general rule, it's always best to get your nutrients from whole foods. In some cases, however, supplements can be appropriate - that is, when they fill a small gap in your diet that you can't fill for some reason. Depending on your situtation, omega-3's could certainly fit the bill here. It's very easy to take a few fish oil capsules in the morning; much harder to eat salmon every night. In some cases, nutrients in supplements don't have the same benefits as nutrients in food. This is because nutrients work together in the body, but supplements isolate specific nutrients. In the case of fish oil supplements, however, the capsules have been shown to have positive health benefits, including joint pain relief.

My final recommendation: try to get as much fish oil as possible from natural sources and supplement as a last resort.

CATEGORIES: Healthy Foods, Healthy Fats , Heart Health, Omega-3, Vitamins & Minerals