The Basics of Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Why You Need Them
Biochemistry is a fundamental branch of the life sciences. It can teach you about how your body processes sugar. It can tell you why trans fats are bad for you. Heck, it can even explain why Botox works so well.
My first intro to biochemistry was through a biology requirement I took for grad school. Mind you, I never completed any basic prereqs such as organic chemistry so this was all new territory. Each week, instead of lecturing, my professor would pick a “lucky” pair of students to go head to head in the ultimate biochem showdown. You would either triumph or fail miserably in front of the whole class.
So I studied with determination. I’d be darn if I was going to embarrass myself in front of the class. I found that the more I studied, the better I understood the material. And the more crazy cool stuff I learned.
I don’t think many people realize how freaking cool biochemistry is (says the physics grad, right? I can hear the eye rolls!).
One of the most interesting topics I learned in that biochemistry class was fatty acids. Based off a few things I learned in class plus some research on my part, I’ve simplified the need to know science behind omega-3 fatty acids.
Just having an understanding of how omega-3 fatty acids work really helped me make wiser decisions about my eating habits. So keep reading to learn about omega-3 fatty acids and why you need to put more in your diet.
Fatty Acids Are Long Chains of Carbons
Fatty acids (or fats) are chains of carbons, attached by a single bond, surrounded by hydrogen atoms. At the head of the chain is a carboxyl group. The tail end of the chain, called omega, contains a methyl group.
You’ve probably heard of saturated and unsaturated fats. When every single carbon in the fatty acid chain is surrounded by a hydrogen, it’s called a saturated fat. Think of the carbons as being saturated with hydrogen. If at least one bond is a double bond, then the fatty acid is unsaturated because the carbons have 1 less hydrogen attached (see below).
Well, omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat. More specifically, the double bond occurs 3 carbons down from the omega end, hence omega-3 fatty acids.
The most important omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which differ in the number of carbons in their chain.
Why Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Important?
We cannot make our own omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, we must get them from our diet. This is why omega-3s are essential fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids have some crazy good benefits:
- Skin – A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids is known to reduce inflammation, which in turn can reduce your risk of acne.
- Menstruation – A Danish study found that women who had diets low in meat and fish had more pain during their periods. While another study showed that omega-3 supplements reduce the number of ibuprofen women took for severe cramps.
- Pregnancy – The addition of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to improve the development of infants in and outside the womb. Studies involving DHA, in particular, show increased cognition and lower chances of autism in developing babies.
Overall, there are a bunch of good benefits for taking omega-3s. With a little bit of research, you can learn how they also help you maintain a healthy heart and lower high blood pressure.
Where Do You Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3s can be found in a variety of foods. The largest source of omega-3s come from seafood, walnuts, and flaxseed. Fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout contain EPA and DHA. Even grass fed beef has a good amount of omega-3s.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat your veggies because many green vegetables like kale and brussels sprouts are rich in ALA. While soybeans, walnuts and chia nuts are great options for vegetarians.
Ultimately, eating a well-balanced mix of foods will provide a substantial amount of the omega-3 fatty acids you need.
So what did you learn? Let me know in the comments below. And remember to share this info with others.