Omega 3 Fatty Acids

WHAT ARE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. Essential means they cannot be made by our bodies as we cannot make the double bond which gives them their name of omega-3 and so we must get them from the food we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat.

The Omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • ALA = alpha-linolenic acid
  • EPA = eicosapentaenoic acic
  • DHA = docosahexaenoic acid
  • DPA = docosapentaenoic acid

Alpha-linolenic acid is often referred to as the parent or plant-sourced omega 3 fatty acid, while EPA and DHA are considered the predominant long-chain omega 3 fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid cannot be formed in the body and so must be consumed in the diet. Once consumed ALA may be converted in our bodies into EPA and DHA in limited amounts provided our diets contain sufficient quantities of ALA However, the conversion of ALA to the other omega-3 fatty acids will not meet our requirements for these fatty acids and so it is important that in addition to ALA that EPA and DHA are also consumed in the diet.

WHICH FOODS ARE SOURCES OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?

Generally the Omega-3 fatty acid ALA, comes from plant based foods, while EPA and DHA come from marine and animal foods. Sources of ALA include canola oil (including margarines derived from canola oil), legumes, flaxseeds (linseed) and flaxseed oil, certain nuts such as walnuts, soybeans and dark green leafy vegetables1. Good sources of EPA and DHA include oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring and other seafood2. Fish get their Omega-3 fatty acids from the algae they eat and so there may be a difference in the Omega-3 concentrations of farmed and wild caught fish. Some types of oily fish should be limited during pregnancy and for small children3. For those who don’t eat fish or seafood lean meat can also be a source of EPA and DHA, while many foods are now being ‘fortified’ or enriched with the long-chain Omega-3 fats including eggs, milk, bread, yoghurt and orange juice2. Look out for this on food product labels.

HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED?

The table below shows the daily Adequate Intake levels of omega-3 for each age group for Australian and New Zealand men and women1.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) Total long-chain omega-3
(DHA+EPA+DPA)
Boys and girls
1-3yr
4-8yr

0.5 g/day
0.8 g/day

40 mg/day
55 mg/day
Boys
9-13yr
14-18yr

1.0 g/day
1.2 g/day

70 mg/day
125 mg/day
Girls
9-13yr
14-18yr

0.8 g/day
0.8 g/day

70 mg/day
85 mg/day
Adults 19+ yr
Men
Women

1.3 g/day
0.8 g/day

160 mg/day
90 mg/day
Pregnancy
14-18yr
19-50yr

1.0 g/day
1.0 g/day

110 mg/day
115 mg/day
Lactation
14 – 18yr
19-50yr

1.2 g/day
1.2 g/day

140 mg/day
145 mg/day

The National Health and Medical Research Council have also set Suggested Dietary Targets for EPA and DHA of 610mg/d for men and 430mg/d for women. These targets are a daily average intake of EPA and DHA from food and beverages that may help to reduce the risk of chronic disease1 These targets can be met by following the National Heart Foundation recommendations of consuming at least 2-3 serves of oily fish a week1,4. It is important for those who do not like fish or those who are vegetarian and don’t include fish or lean meat in their diet, to include other sources of these essential fatty acids such as eggs or foods enriched with EPA and DHA. In addition to the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids it is also recommended to include sources of ALA in our diet every day. This is particularly important for vegetarians who do not eat fish. It is recommended that vegetarians include at least 4 serves of ALA rich foods daily to help better meet the Adequate Intake for DHA and EPA. This could be achieved through a combination of flaxseeds/linseeds, walnuts, canola oils and products containing these ingredients.

If you are a vegan you can now buy Omega-3 fatty acid supplements derived from algae.

WHAT DO OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS DO?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids and are therefore necessary for the normal growth and development of our bodies. They also help us absorb fat soluble vitamins. The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA contribute to cell membrane functions and there is a growing body of science showing EPA and DHA play a positive role in supporting heart health1,4. However, it should be noted that a higher intake of 500mg/day of EPA and DHA is recommended to support this health effect4.

TIPS FOR BOOSTING OMEGA-3 FATS IN YOUR DIET

  • Make a tuna, light mayonnaise and salad sandwich for lunch
  • Add some tinned fish to a salad e.g. niçoise salad with tuna, green beans, potato, tomato, olives and low-fat canola mayonnaise
  • Add fish to pasta dishes e.g. smoked salmon and capers or Tuna, olive and tomato fettucine
  • Make a tuna or salmon mornay
  • Include eggs in your diet e.g. poached eggs on toast for breakfast
  • Try a smoked salmon and asparagus omelette or quiche
  • Fish patties are always a hit
  • Look out for Omega-3 fortified products commonly found in milks, yoghurt, breakfast cereals, bread, snack bars and fruit juice
  • Enjoy a handful of walnuts as a snack
  • Add some nuts and sprinkle some linseeds into a stir-fry e.g. chicken, vegetables and cashews
  • Add some nuts and sprinkle some linseeds into a salad e.g. waldorf salad with walnuts, celery, apple and low-fat canola mayonnaise
  • Add nuts to cakes e.g. banana and walnut cake
  • When you need to use oil in cooking, use canola oil
  • Use canola margarine in place of other vegetable oil based margarines
  • Use multigrain or soy and linseed bread
  • Offer a dark green leafy vegetable dish as a side e.g. sautéed spinach or steamed Asian greens
  • Reduce the saturated ‘bad’ fat in the menu by trimming excess fat from meat. Remove skin from chicken and choose low fat or reduced fat dairy products

This fact sheet contains general information. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific advice for your personal situation.

If you would like current information about our products please visit www.nestle.com.au/brands or call our Consumer Services Department during business hours on 1800 025 361.


REFERENCES

1. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Department of Health and Ageing. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2006.

2. Omega-3 Centre: Foods rich in long chain omega 3’s. Accessed on 04 October 2011 http://www.omega-3centre.com/index.php?Itemid=138&id=126&option=com_content&view=article

3. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand Mercury in Fish accessed March 2011 http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/adviceforpregnantwomen/mercuryinfish.cfm

4. Heart Foundation Position Statement: Fish, fish oils, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiovascular health. Updated November 2008 Accessed 04 October 2011 http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Fish-FishOils-position-statement.pdf