However, according to 2022 in June published research Current dietary trends, American adults are deficient in two of the three essential omega-3 fatty acids-including DHA, which is arguably the most important brain-stimulating fatty acid.
Read on to learn more about omega-3s, the different types, and how to increase your intake to keep your brain and body in tip-top shape.
What are omega-3 fatty acids and how do they support brain health?
“Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated or ‘healthy fats’ found in both animal and plant foods,” it says. Bianca Tamburello, RDN, a nutritionist based in New York. “It’s important to make sure you’re eating omega-3-rich foods because our bodies can’t make this essential nutrient.
As we mentioned earlier, omega-3s support overall health in a number of ways, although they are particularly known for promoting and protecting brain health at all stages of life. “This powerful nutrient supports mental health and is linked to less age-related cognitive declinealso a reduced risk of depression and fewer depressive symptoms,” says Tamburello. She also points out that omega-3 and especially DHA very important for fetal and newborn brain developmenttherefore, they are an integral part of expectant and newborn diets.
According to Tamburello, the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
“DHA is thought to be especially important for omega-3s and is critical for the structure of the brain, eyes, and other parts of the body,” says Tamburello. “Both DHA and EPA have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight inflammation, which is beneficial in helping related diseases.” Unfortunately, the aforementioned 2022 study findings show that American adults routinely do not meet these omega-3 intake (AI) standards.
However, many adults seem to achieve AI values for ALA, and this discrepancy makes sense when you understand what their main food sources are. “ALA is found in plant foods, seeds, and seed oils, including flaxseed and flaxseed oil, soybeans and soybean oil, canola oil, chia seeds, and walnuts,” says Tamburello. “Because vegetable oils are found in many processed foods, ALA is more common in the Western diet than DHA and EPA.” In other words, even if you don’t add flaxseed oil to your morning smoothie or supplement your lunch mason jar salad with chia seeds, some less nutritious foods can still help achieve AI AI values that (depending on the source) are between From 1.1 grams to 2 grams during the day.
“ALA’s role is mainly to convert food into energy that the body can use to function regularly,” says Tamburello. “Although the body can convert small amounts of ALA into DHA and EPA, this process does not produce enough EPA and DHA to replace food with EPA and DHA. Simply put, it pays to take a closer look at your diet to make sure you’re getting enough DHA (and EPA) to keep your brain, mood, and body healthy for years to come.
3 ways to increase your DHA intake for more benefits
To get the most brain-boosting DHA benefits from omega-3s, you’ll need to make it a priority to include more of this nutrient in your diet. Here are the best ways to do it.
1. Eat more fish
“To increase your DHA intake, eat more fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna,” says Tamburello. She says they are in between the most significant sources both DHA and* EPA, so check with your local fishmonger (and/or browse). canned fish and canned seafood) to get more nutritional bang for your buck. She also suggests looking for options that tend to be rich in omega-3s. “For example, I look for salmon from Chile because it’s especially high in omega-3s,” she adds.
Note: Tamburello mentions that unlike ALA, DHA does not have a set recommendation to take alone; instead, health organizations often suggest combined DHA and EPA values. “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating two servings of fish (about eight ounces total) per week for overall health. That’s an average of 250 milligrams of DHA and EPA per serving, but it’s also good to consume more DHA and EPA,” she says. (People with cardiovascular disease are advised to increase their total daily intake of DHA and EPA so that about one gram a day.)
2. Stock up on fish oil or fish oil supplements
“There are very few vegan sources of DHA, making it harder for vegans and vegetarians to get this nutrient through their diet,” says Tamburello. That being said, if you follow a vegetarian diet or simply don’t like fish and/or seafood, fish oil and fish oil supplements are additional RD-approved sources of DHA.
Learn more about fish oil supplements from a registered dietitian by watching this video:
3. Add algae oil
If fish oil and fish oil supplements are a tough choice for you (whether you follow a vegan, plant-based diet, or otherwise), rest assured that there is an option that can seamlessly increase your DHA benefits: algae oil. “Those who don’t like taking fish oil supplements can rely on algae oil, which contains both DHA and EPA,” says Tamburello. In addition, she also suggests that people who fall into this camp should still opt for healthy sources of ALA, such as chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds, to boost your omega-3 levels.