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Omega-3: What It Is and Why We Need it?


So. Many. Acronyms. They all refer to what we know as omega-3. But what is it, and why do we need it?

You've probably noticed the above words and letters popping up everywhere these days as we focus more and more on how we can be healthier through nutrition. But the term and others related to it can be confusing. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, which is a basic component of fat that our bodies can't make. In other words, we can only get it through the foods we eat.

Similar to carbohydrates, certain types of fats are better for us than others. On the one hand, fats like saturated and trans fat can potentially harm our health because they affect cholesterol levels and increase heart disease risk. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are "good" fats because they can lower our risk of heart disease. Omega-3 is a healthy, polyunsaturated type of fatty acid.


Here are a few of the main benefits of omega-3 fatty acid:

  1. Reduces inflammation
  2. Lowers risk of heart disease (reduces blood pressure, lowers cholesterol)
  3. Improves brain function
  4. Improves bone and joint health
  5. Decreases depression

The omega-3 family includes EPA, DHA, and ALA, each with slightly different benefits. EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, is mainly associated with reducing inflammation and depression. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is essential to healthy brain and eye development and function. And ALA, or alpha linolenic acid, is a potent antioxidant. 

DHA also has a role in skin health because our skin cells contain DHA in their membranes. Healthy membranes prevent moisture from escaping the cells and keep our skin hydrated. DHA also might help reduce irritation from certain skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

The third type, ALA, is a precursor to EPA and DHA, which means it has to be converted to those forms first to get the full benefits. Our bodies convert some but not all of the ALA we eat into EPA and DHA.


The most well-known source of omega-3s is fatty fish, such as salmonmackerelsardines, and anchovies. Incorporating these fish regularly into your diet will help you get the omega-3 you need.

If you’re not a fish eater, there are a few non-fishy options. Instead, try chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, or soybeans as an alternative. These foods are good sources of the ALA type of omega-3. Unfortunately, not all of the ALA you eat gets converted into EPA and DHA, which is something to consider. You’ll also find many foods at the grocery store that have omega-3 added to them. So be on the lookout for these fortified foods, like dairy and non-dairy milk, yogurt, juices, and eggs.

You could also take supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, like fish oil, algae oil, and flaxseed oil. The good thing about fish oil supplements is that they’re less contaminated with mercury and PCBs than the fish you eat because they're purified (the product will state that it's purified on the label.) However, the fishy flavor of supplements might not be your cup of tea.

Algae oil is considered an excellent source of omega-3 for vegetarians and vegans. Small fish eat algae to get their omega-3 content, so you'll be getting the good stuff straight from the source.


Omega 3s are the most popular but aren’t the only type of omega fatty acid our bodies need to function. We also need omega 6 and 9. We actually need more omega-6 than 3, but many processed foods are high in omega-6, so if you eat these regularly, you might already get enough. However, eating a diet high in processed foods will provide too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.

One type of omega-6 called gamma linoleic acid (GLA) has anti-inflammatory properties. Oils from the seeds of evening primrose and borage plants are well known to contain high amounts of GLA. These oils have been used for medicinal purposes for many years for conditions like premenstrual syndrome or hot flashes, arthritis, asthma, inflammation, and heart health.

Oils like evening primrose and borage are also excellent ingredients in skin care. They help soothe skin irritations like eczema and dermatitis, boost hydration, and repair skin damage and wrinkles. Other omega-rich oils like safflower, sunflower seed, and rosehips are excellent hydrators for aging skin.

The third member of the omega family is omega-9. We don't need to get omega-9 from our diet because, unlike the other omegas, our bodies can make it. Ultimately, keeping a balance of 3-6-9 is what’s most important. Omega-3 isn't as easy to get from your diet as omega-6 unless you eat specific foods, and this is why it's become a key topic in health and nutrition.

Hopefully, this clears up some confusion you may have had about omega-3 and why it’s getting so much attention lately. Incorporating it into your diet can provide a whole host of health benefits. And luckily for some, eating fish isn’t the only way to get it. It’s also a skincare ingredient we love here at Nurture My Body. Look for products with evening primrose, borage, sea buckthorn, and safflower oil for healthy, hydrated, and happy skin!

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