Want to find out more about omega 3 fatty acids? Then you've come to the right place in this article. I will explain everything you need to know about long-chain omega-3 fats and their subtypes. We'll start with a profile of omega 3 fatty acids and then continue with intake, daily requirements, importance, overdosing, deficiency, test variants and ways to cover your daily requirements. You will also find special information for vegans and vegetarians and which forms of food supplements can be useful.
Here is in advance a short Overview for you:
Notice: This article is not a substitute for medical advice, but merely provides general information about omega-3 fatty acids. Please consult your doctor if you feel unwell or want to prevent health problems with medical care.
Omega 3 PROFILE at a glance
Assignment: unsaturated fats
Synonyms: n-3 fatty acids
Important for: Component of the cell membrane, development of the eye retina and brain in the growth phase, inflammatory processes
Daily requirement: ALA: 0.5 % of total calories1, EPA/DHA 250-1,000 mg2,3,4
Recording: through food intake or dietary supplements
Overdose: due to extremely high doses of fish or algae oil
Deficiency symptoms: including muscle weakness, concentration, sleep and growth disorders
Food: Fish, linseed, walnuts, chia seeds, microalgae oil
Food supplement: As drops or capsules
How to take omega 3?
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as n-3 fatty acids, are primarily known to protect the heart from cardiovascular disease, as they increase the Improve blood lipid levels.5 They occur in different forms alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA).
Under certain conditions, the human body is capable of converting ALA to EPA and EPA to DHA, as well as converting DHA back to EPA. The conversion of DPA to DHA is still under discussion.6
Under optimal conditions, a supply of ALA can be sufficient to cover the need for EPA and DHA. However, this depends on the conversion rate of the body, which in turn depends heavily on the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as linoleic acid (LA), for example, which belongs to the omega-6 fatty acids, has an inhibiting effect on the conversion of ALA into EPA. A good ratio is lower than 5:1 (omega 6 : omega 3).
Omega-3 fatty acids in the forms EPA and DHA are mainly found in Fish while ALA is found in many plant sources, such as Nuts and seeds occurs. With a vegan diet, it is therefore good that the body is able to convert ALA into EPA and EPA into DHA with an appropriate ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. To be on the safe side, however, a Food supplements be useful. More on this later.
What is the daily requirement for omega-3 fatty acids?
Now it's getting exciting. How much omega 3 do you actually need per day? You already know the different forms of the unsaturated fatty acid. There is a recommended intake for all of them. There is a certain range of recommendations for omega-3 fatty acids. Basically, the reference values should never be seen as the holy grail, meaning that you will immediately fall ill or drop dead if you do not meet the values. They are always dependent on the individual, their metabolism, body weight and constitution.
This daily requirement is recommended
The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends an intake of 0.5 % of total calories for ALA.1 With a calorie intake of 2,000 kcal, this is approx. 1 g of ALA. For EPA and DHA, the DGE recommends an intake of 250-500 mg per day, preferably in the Ratio 1:2 (EPA:DHA).2 This value is based primarily on studies that found a reduction of 36 % in the risk of dying from coronary heart disease with an intake of 250 mg EPA and DHA per day.7 However, as omega-3 fatty acids are needed for more than just heart health, I think a higher dosage makes sense.
Higher recommendations for omega-3 intake can be found in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which recommends an ALA content of 0.6-1.2 % of total calories and a minimum total intake of 500 mg EPA and DHA per day.3 It makes sense to ensure that the DHA content of the 500 mg is higher than the EPA content, as the body can convert the DHA into EPA relatively easily if required.
A study investigating the prevention of cardiovascular diseases was published in the journal Nutrients. It describes a daily intake of a total of 1,000 mg EPA and DHA per day as normal and safe.4
Daily omega-3 intake: The official reference values vary from 250-1,000 mg EPA and DHA per day. Personally, I tend to stick to the upper end of the scale.
What function do omega-3 fatty acids have in the human body?
Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in many processes in the body. Above all, they are known for their ability to Improve blood lipid levels and so to the Heart health contribute. In addition, they are also used in cell metabolism for Structure of the cell membrane needed. The healthy fatty acids have the following effects anti-inflammatory and can thus prevent the formation of chronic inflammation. The unsaturated fatty acids are also used to Formation of the body's own defense cells and to the Protection against infectious diseases required.8
Here is an overview of the functions of Omega 3:
- Optimizes blood lipid levels and heart health
- Structure of the cell membrane
- Formation of defense cells
- Protection against infectious diseases
Is an n-3 overdose possible?
According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), there are No official Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)because the data available to date is insufficient. Due to the lack of data, the EFSA investigated the intake of 2-6 g EPA and DHA or 2-4 g DHA. As a result, an increase in LDL cholesterol levels of 3 % was found, but this is unlikely to have any negative health effects. The EFSA concludes that a total daily intake of 5 g EPA and DHA is harmless to health is.9
When does an omega-3 deficiency occur?
A deficiency of the important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids can affect not only vegans and vegetarians, but also meat lovers. The healthy fatty acids come mainly from linseed, walnuts, chia seeds (ALA), microalgae and fatty fish (EPA and DHA). A diet that contains only a few seeds and nuts and little fish or algae containing n-3 can quickly lead to an undersupply.
This deficiency can be demonstrated, among other things, by the following Symptoms express:
- Muscle weakness
- Concentration disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Growth disorders
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
Which tests can determine omega-3 status?
To analyze the omega-3 status, the HS Omega-3 Index is used. This measures the distribution of fatty acids in the blood and can determine whether your body has sufficient EPA and DHA available.
Which foods are rich in the unsaturated fatty acid?
As already mentioned, the omega-3 supply depends not only on the corresponding content of a food, but above all on the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6.
For ethical, ecological and health reasons, I generally recommend a plant-based dietNevertheless, I would like to provide as much information as possible about the unsaturated fatty acid and therefore list here some animal foods that are rich in the unsaturated fatty acid and have a good ratio between n-3 and n-6 fatty acids have
- Chia seeds ( 20,470 mg ALA per 100 gram)
- Flaxseed (17,000 mg ALA per 100 gram)
- Walnuts (7,830 mg ALA per 100 gram)
- hulled hemp seeds (7,300 mg ALA per 100 gram)
- Herring (796 mg EPA, 1242 DHA per 100 gram)
- Sardine (747 mg EPA, 1337 DHA per 100 gram)
However, I do not consider the frequently recommended linseed oil to be a good source, as it oxidizes very quickly.
What do vegans and vegetarians need to consider when it comes to their omega-3 intake?
The DGE defines the n-3 in vegans and vegetarians as a potentially critical nutrientThis is due to the fact that EPA and DHA are mainly absorbed from fish.10 Regular dietary supplements and a review of the n-3 status can therefore be useful. However, with a balanced and well-planned plant-based diet, it is perfectly possible to cover your omega-3 requirements. To ensure that your body can optimally convert ALA into EPA, you should regularly include the above-mentioned nuts and seeds in your diet and pay attention to Avoid foods with too much omega-6 fatty acids.
Foods with a high proportion of omega-6 fatty acids or a poor ratio between O3 and O6 include sunflower seeds and oil, hazelnuts, poppy seeds and almonds, as well as pumpkin seed and safflower oil. To avoid sunflower oil, I recommend the use of rapeseed oilwhich has an n-6 to n-3 ratio of 2:1, or olive oil, which has an n-6 to n-3 ratio of 9:1. Hemp oil (3:1) or walnut oil (4:1) are also good options for salads.
However, I personally find it quite stressful to always pay close attention to the n-6 to n-3 ratio and I don't want to have to turn my diet into an exact science. That's why I find it a sensible food supplement with EPA and DHA based on microalgae to use.
Finding the right omega-3 supplement
Food supplements with omega-3 fatty acids usually consist of either fish oil or microalgae oil. As fish absorb omega 3 via microalgae, the intermediate "fish" step can be avoided and microalgae oil can be used directly. In addition, microalgae can be cultivated in laboratories and therefore contain fewer impurities and can be produced more ecologically.
If you would like to take a supplement, it may be useful to Coordinate nutritional supplements with your family doctorto avoid an overdose. If supplementation is advisable, the following preparations in drop or capsule form are recommended:
- Drop from Vivo Life (600 mg DHA, 300 mg EPA per daily dose):
you get here*
- Capsules from Mind Body Nutrition (500 mg DHA, 250 mg EPA per daily dose):
you get here*
The microalgae oil from Vivo Life has a dosage of 600 mg DHA and 300 mg EPA and is therefore slightly above the DGE reference values1but within the reference values from other studies.3,4,9 As I personally consider the DGE reference values for EPA and DHA to be somewhat too low, I can recommend the dosage of the Vivo Life supplement.
Ensure omega-3 supply permanently
Your n-3 supply depends primarily on the n-3 to n-6 ratio of your food. If you regularly include foods with a good ratio in your diet and avoid foods with a poor ratio, you will optimize the body's own conversion of ALA into EPA and thus your n-3 supply.
I personally consider a Supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids, however for both a plant-based and a mixed-food diet.. If you then still eat a balanced dietexercise regularly and spend time in the fresh air, your healthy lifestyle already many deficiency symptoms and Avoid diseases.
If you regularly feel unwell or have made significant changes to your diet, a Blood test with your family doctor to detect a potential deficiency at an early stage.
If you have any questions or suggestions about the article on Omega 3, please write me a comment!
All the best,
PS.: You want to know, why we live vegan? Find out more about our motives in the linked article! Or do you want to learn more about nutrients? Then take a look at the next article about Vitamin D. Have fun!
1 German Society for Nutrition e. V.: Fat, https://www.dge.de/wissenschaft/referenzwerte/fett/?L=0. [22.06.2021].
2 Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung e. V.: Evidence-based guideline on fat intake and prevention of selected diet-related diseases, https://www.dge.de/fileadmin/public/doc/ws/ll-fett/v2/Gesamt-DGE-Leitlinie-Fett-2015.pdf. [22.06.2021].
3 G. Vannice, H. Rasmussen (2014). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Fatty Acids for Healthy Adults. In: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 114 (1), pp. 136-153, available online: https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(13)01672-9/fulltext. [22.06.2021]
4 S. Eilat-Adar, T. Sinai, C. Yosefy & Y. Henkin (2013). Nutritional Recommendations for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. In: Nutrients 5 (9), pp. 3649-3683, available online: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/9/3646/htm. [22.06.2021]
5 Zentrum der Gesundheit: The right dose of omega-3 fatty acids,
6 K. Wehrmüller, A. Schmid, Dr. B. Walther (2008). Health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and the importance of alpine products for intake. In: Ernährungsumschau 55 (2008), pp. 655-661, available online: https://www.ernaehrungs-umschau.de/fileadmin/Ernaehrungs-Umschau/pdfs/pdf_2008/11_08/EU11_655_661.qxd.pdf. [22.06.2021].
7 D. Mozaffarian, T. Hao, E. B: Rimm, et al. (2011). Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. In: The New England Journal of Medicine 364 (2011), pp. 2392-2404, available online: https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa1014296 . [22.06.2021].
8 Zentrum der Gesundheit: Omega-3: The effects of fatty acids,
9 European Food Safety Authority (2012). Scientific Opinion on the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2815 . [22.06.2021].
10 Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung e. V.: Supplement to the position of the German Nutrition Society regarding population groups with special nutritional needs, https://www.dge.de/wissenschaft/weitere-publikationen/dge-position/vegane-ernaehrung/?L=0, [22.06.2021].