It might be surprising to some to learn that eating fat is a crucial way to experience freedom from pain and inflammation, ward off depression, and to protect yourself from a variety of diseases, including heart disease and certain types of cancers. 

Not all fats are created equally, though. There are great fats, good fats, and then ugly fats. In this article, I’ll discuss the benefits of omega-3 fats, a type of essential fatty acid, and what are the best sources of it. Read on!

First of all, omega-3s are a type of unrefined polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, types of fats we need to consume because they are not produced by the body. The two types of omega-3s that are most beneficial are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They play a crucial role in normal growth and development, facilitate the growth of nerve and brain cells in the developing fetus and throughout life, help reduce inflammation, and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Other benefits of omega-3 fats include freedom from pain and inflammation, better brain function and higher intelligence, feeling better with much less depression, a lower incidence of childhood disorders, superior cardiovascular health, protection from heart attack and stroke, and reduction of breast, colon, and prostate cancer.

Our ancestors thrived on a omega-3-rich diet because omega-3s are present in “wild” foods, such as wild fish, which we no longer consume in any significant quantity. Actually, our ancestors ate a balance of foods containing omega-3s and omega-6s, another type of polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oils. As modern Americans eating the SAD (Standard American Diet), we’re eating an overabundance of omega-6 fats in the form of rancid, refined vegetable oils in processed foods and restaurants (fast food and sit-down type establishments). Decreasing intake of omega-6s and increasing intake of omega-3s is a crucial way of getting back into balance and vastly improving your health.

Amounts of EPA and DHA are high in the following seafood: Atlantic mackerel, salmon, mussels, anchovy, Pacific oysters, sardines, herring, sablefish, and trout. Tuna is another fish that contains high amounts of omega-3 but is there is serious concern about the presence of mercury in tuna. If you choose to eat tuna, while fresh tuna is more nutritious (i.e., contains more omega-3s) than canned, canned will be less likely to quite as contaminated with mercury. When purchasing canned tuna, look for “chunk” or “chunk light”, as these types of tuna generally come from bluefin or yellowtail, which are generally smaller and younger species. Stay away from canned tuna labeled “solid white” or “chunk white” as these types of tuna generally come from albacore tuna, which is generally larger and older and will more likely be contaminated with mercury.

In general, stay away from the larger species of fish, as these will more likely contain larger amounts of mercury. Examples are shark, tilefish, King mackerel, and swordfish. The species I recommended above that are good to eat are of the smaller variety.

If you are a person who strongly dislikes the taste of fish, I recommend taking an omega-3 supplement. Always work with a trained physician before considering supplements of any kind, but in general, taking 2.5 g is helpful for maintaining general wellness, though not enough for addressing specific maladies. When comparing different supplement brands, disregard the amount of omega-3s advertised on the label. Looking at the back of the bottle, add the amount of EPA and DHA and that’s the true amount of the omega-3s you’re getting. Everything else is just filler. Purchase a brand with a higher amounts of DHA (over 60% of your brain is made up of DHA). 

Using the highest quality of fish oil is just as important as eating the highest quality fish. When purchasing a supplement, look for words like “molecularly distilled.” This process removes PCB’s and heavy toxins, including mercury. Also look for odorless, clear soft-gel caps. People have expressed concern about a bad taste or about getting fishy burps from taking fish oil supplements. If this is the case, it means the oil in the pill is rancid. You will spend around $40 a bottle for a high-quality brand, but this is crucial to maintaining the integrity and quality of the oil.

If you are a vegetarian, you can still obtain omega-3s in plant form. Omega-3s from plants are in the form of α-linolenic acid (ALA) need to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA, so getting your omega-3s from plant foods are not as effective as from fish. But it’s better than not getting them at all, so look for sources, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

In whatever form you get your omega-3s from, consume them on a regular basis. Here’s to your health!