EPA and DHA Omega-3s: What You Need to Know

By GOED Director of Consumer and Healthcare Practitioner Communications Elana Natker, RD.

There is a pair of nutrients found in every cell of our bodies that helps us perform at our best: EPA and DHA omega-3s. The problem is, 80% of people worldwide are not getting enough of these nutrients. On Global Omega-3 Day, we shine the spotlight on these important nutrients and why we need them.

What Are Omega-3s?

Omega-3s are a type of fatty acids. There are three main types of omega-3s that we get in the diet, EPA, DHA and ALA. EPA and DHA are naturally found in marine products such as fatty fish and microalgae, while ALA, or alpha linolenic acid, is found in plant foods like walnuts, flax and chia seeds. It’s easy to lump all omega-3s together, but ALA does not have the same health effects as EPA and DHA omega-3s.

Why Aren’t People Getting Enough?

Most people simply do not eat enough fish as part of their daily or weekly diets. Even if they are, they might not be choosing the most omega-3-rich sources. Salmon, anchovies, sardines and other oily fish have the most EPA and DHA omega-3s. Tilapia, shrimp and other types of fish are good sources of protein and other nutrients, but not omega-3s. Taking a daily supplement such as fish oil, krill or algal oil (vegetarian EPA/DHA) helps fill dietary gaps.

Omega-3 intake that comes from plant-based sources tend to supply only ALA. While the body is able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, the process is not very efficient. That’s why it’s important to get EPA and DHA directly from food sources or dietary supplements.

Why You Need EPA and DHA Omega-3s

EPA and DHA omega-3s are among the most studied nutrients, with more than 45,000 published papers. The overwhelming evidence based on human clinical trials suggest that EPA and DHA omega-3s are helpful in supporting heart, brain and eye health throughout life, and prenatal/maternal health, including supporting a healthy pregnancy and early childhood development.

Resolve to Increase Your EPA and DHA

On Global Omega-3 Day – and everyday – aim to get more EPA and DHA omega-3s into your body. You can:

  • Commit to eating fatty fish at least twice per week. For a list of the best fish sources of EPA and DHA omega-3s, click here.
  • Start an EPA/DHA omega-3 supplement regimen. There are many different types of supplements: fish, krill or algae sources, in softgel, liquid or chewable format. Find the best type for you, and stick to it!
  • If you already take an omega-3 supplement, consider increasing your dose. GOED recommends at least 500 mg per day for overall health. If you have a heart condition or are pregnant/breastfeeding, you may need more. Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) consider supplementation of up to 5 grams (5000 mg) per day to be safe.

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