The basics: What is omega-3?

Alex Glover, a nutritionist at Holland & Barrett, explains why omega-3 is important and where you can find it

What is omega-3? Why is it good for you?

Omega-3 is a family of 3 separate fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. When it comes to omega-3 benefits, EPA is linked to reducing cell inflammation (the normal way in which the body defends itself, such as from bacteria and viruses, but which can go into overdrive), while DHA helps keep retina cells healthy and is linked to synapse formation, so is important for vision and brain health.

Making sure we get enough of Omega-3 from our diet is key to making sure we are gaining the benefits.

What are the signs you’re not getting enough?

It is hard to tell if someone is deficient as most of the symptoms could have another cause. Some possible symptoms are difficulty concentrating, poor memory recollection, stiff joints, inflammation, and poor skin health.

How can you get more?

The best way of getting omega-3 is to eat foods that contain it. Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are good sources of omega-3. If you don’t eat fish, omega-3 is also found in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. Walnuts, flaxseed, and rapeseed oil are omega-3 foods. You can also get omega-3 from a supplement. My go-to supplement for vegetarians and vegans is algal oil, which comes from marine algae. Eating algae is how fish get their omega-3.

What should you look for on the label?

Look for EPA and DHA on the label of any omega-3 supplements as these are the vital acids your body needs. ALA can convert into EPA and DHA, but only in very small amounts. Algal oil contains both EPA and DHA and doesn’t contain any animal sourced ingredients – so it’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Handpicked article: 8 essential nutrients for Vegans

Can I have too much?

It would be quite unlikely in realistic amounts. However, it may offset the omega-3/6 balance in the body. Research suggests this should be between 4:1 and 1:1. Some research has proposed that excessively high omega-3 consumption could have a negative effect on the body’s immune response to certain viral infections; however, more research is needed.

Shop Omega & Fish Oils Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.