Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids to thrive – but what are omega-3 fatty acids and what are the best ways to include them in your diet? Dietician Hayley Cimring fills us in.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats that provide a range of benefits for heart and brain health. Hayley Cimring, from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA), explains: “Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation throughout the body (inflammation in the body can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease and strokes), decrease triglyceride levels (a fat in the blood), reduce the rate of arterial plaque buildup, and lower blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for brain growth and development.”
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids
So, if omega-3s are so important, how can we ensure we get enough of them in our diets? “Our bodies can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids on their own,” Hayley says, “so we need to get them from our diets.”
Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, as well as leaner fish such as hake. When preparing fish, try healthier methods such as baking, grilling or broiling instead of frying to retain the nutritional value. Good plant-based sources include flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts.
The HSFSA recommends we eat at least two servings of fish per week. Hayley cautions, however, that people with certain health conditions may require higher amounts of omega-3s and should consult their healthcare provider for personalised recommendations.
Is frozen fish a good source of omega-3 fatty acids?
There’s good news for those who may struggle to obtain fresh dish. Hayley says frozen fish can be just as good a source of omega-3s as fresh, as long as it’s of high quality and frozen properly after harvest to retain the nutritional value, moisture and taste. “Hake is a good example of a fish that is readily available in South Africa,” Haley says, “and can be a good source of omega-3s.” Frozen fish also naturally maintains its omega-3s, but to preserve the omega-3s in fresh fish, it’s important to store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator (0–3°C). Cook or consume fresh fish within 1–2 days of purchase to ensure maximum freshness and nutrient content.