Omega-3s are essential fatty acids, with numerous roles in the normal functioning of your heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system.1
Notably, your body cannot otherwise produce on omega-3s on its own.
Most of us might know that we need omega-3s, and that their health benefits are numerous, but it can be hard to navigate a lot of the information we are given about them.
So let’s break down three of the key myths about omega-3s:
Myth 1: You can only get omega-3s from fish
There are three main kinds of omega-3s, and they have different benefits for you, as well as coming from different food sources.
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) omega-3s are found in plant sources. Your body needs to convert this omega-3 into the following two types (EPA or DHA) before it can use it for anything other than energy or storage.
Humans, however, are only capable of converting a small percentage of ALA.
ALA is found in foods like kale, spinach, soybeans, walnuts, chia, flaxseed, and hemp. It can also be found in some animal fats.2
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
EPA (or eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3s are important for your eyes, brain, reducing inflammation, and more.
Fish such as herring, salmon, eel, shrimp, sardines, and sturgeon have the highest amounts of these omega-3s, but you can also get them in the dairy, eggs, and meats of farm animals that have been grass-fed.3
For vegetarians and vegans, this can look like bad news.
However, some of the sources of ALA contain so much omega-3s, that they can still provide some of the benefits.
For example, a small portion of flaxseeds (28 grams) contains 6,388 mg of ALA, which is around 5 times what you need on a daily basis.4
The other option for vegans is a supplement that contains algal oil. This source does include EPA and DHA omega-3s.5
Myth 2: As a fatty acid, omega-3s are bad for you
Omega-3s aren’t just good for you, they are an essential nutrient that your body needs for many of its functions.
Omega-3s for eye health
Omega-3s are important for eye health. They are a major structural component of the retina of your eyes. When you do not get enough DHA omega-3s, you can potentially get vision problems.6
Omega-3s to help combat depression
People who consume omega-3s as a regular part of their diet are also less likely to be depressed.
Though depression and anxiety are caused by a variety of biological and social factors, increased omega-3 consumption may also alleviate some of their symptoms.7
Omega-3s for brain growth and development
Omega-3s are also crucial for your brain. They are important for the brain’s growth and development in infants, and for maintaining a healthy brain in adults and in old age.
Omega-3s for good heart health
These fatty acids can also reduce the triglycerides in your body as well as high blood pressure.
They can raise the levels of good HDL cholesterol, and prevent harmful blood clots. They can prevent plaque from hardening your arteries, and reduce the production of some substances that your body releases during its inflammatory response.
What all this amounts to is lowering the risk factors for heart problems.8
In fact, even fish oil supplements will not increase your weight or overall body fat.
Even the idea that fat is automatically bad for you, or that you can judge a person’s health based on their weight, are myths. Your body needs a certain amount of fat to protect your organs, and your brain is 60% fat.
Instead, you can judge your health by how you actually feel, how balanced your diet is, and if you get enough exercise.
Omega-3s for metabolism
But when it comes to omega-3s, they can actually help control your metabolism.
By increasing your serotonin levels, omega-3s can help curb cravings and make you feel fuller.
Having a stronger metabolic system can also see you burn calories more efficiently.9
Myth 3: Fish oil supplements taste bad
Of course, like anything, fish oil can go off. That means that while it is important to check the use-by date, and make sure you buy small amounts at a time, fish oil will only actually smell bad once it has gone rancid.
If the fish oil capsule has an enteric coating, it should be protected until it gets to your intestines, and you can start to digest and absorb the oil.
Last updated: 5 February 2021
Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction. Donia’s LinkedIn profile