Back to school: The ABCs of omega-3

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To the delight of many parents, school is back in session. Nowadays, many classrooms teach everything from coding to computer science, yet the basics are still the same: reading, writing, arithmetic. To get you in a classroom state-of-mind, we’re thrilled to school you in omega-3s. Discover what they are, what they do, and why they earn a high mark in health.

OMEGA-3 101

Here’s the Cliff-Notes version: Omega-3s are essential fatty acids, meaning that your body can’t make them. So, you must get them from the foods and beverages you consume. The main omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which can be converted into two other omega-3s: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The main sources of DHA and EPA are fish and shellfish, while ALA is found in walnuts, dark leafy green vegetables, flaxseed and vegetable oils. DHA and ALA are essential for proper brain development while EPA is is known for supporting a healthy inflammatory response.

THE VALEDICTORIAN: DHA

DHA supports brain, retina and nervous system development, and studies suggest that DHA may improve reading and behavior in children. Even cooler? It can cross the placenta, making it a crucial nutrient for infants and pregnant women. After birth, breastfed infants continue to receive DHA from breast milk.

THE JOCK: EPA

Like DHA, EPA is also a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid found in fish. And if you live off the coast of Alaska, you’re in luck! Cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines contain large amounts of omega-3s. Besides supporting a healthy inflammatory response, EPA acts as a precursor of compounds used for blood clotting and blood pressure regulation. EPA also helps limit damage from inflammation and oxidative stress.

THE COOL KID: ALA

ALA is the hip, vegetarian classmate in the cafeteria. Unlike EPA and DHA, ALA is a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is found in plants, such as flaxseed. Your body will selectively convert ALA to EPA and DHA. This conversion rate is impacted by diet and varies by individual. The human body uses ALA for energy, and it’s also a component of all cell membranes, notably in the nerves and brain. It’s also a sure-fire way to score an A+ in awesome, especially if you eat a vegan or vegetarian diet.

A CLASS ACT

Whether you’re getting your omega-3s from fish oil or flaxseed oil, they’re going to be good for your health. Lesson learned.

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