Fat: When More is Better

Most people know that too much saturated and trans fats aren’t part of a healthy diet. However, as science has advanced, we’ve come to learn that some fat is necessary, and in fact, there are some fats most of us could benefit from eating in higher quantity. Omega-3 fatty acids, a special class of fats, are the new darlings of the nutrition community. They’re also one of the hottest ingredients in the food industry, as evidence by their appearance in eggs, milk, yogurt, and even bread. But are you getting the omega-3s you need from these fortified products?

An article in the Los Angeles Times reveals that foods fortified with omega-3s may be an effective way to get more of these healthy fats, but you may not be getting the right type.

The three most researched types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Our bodies convert ALA into EPA and DHA, which is fortunate, because research indicates that these are the more beneficial fats. Unfortunately, our body isn’t that good at the conversion. So, the more EPA and DHA we can get directly from our diet, the better off we’ll be. According to the LA Times, not all fatty-acid fortified products disclose the breakdown of ALA, EPA, and DHA, making it hard for consumers to know what they’re actually getting.

The conundrum is further complicated by the fact that the Institute of Medicine has not issued recommendations for specific fatty acids (only a general one for all omega-3s). That means even if we knew how much EPA, DHA, or ALA was being added to a product, we wouldn’t be able to compare it to an ideal intake.

Until more research is done, it’s probably best to get your omega-3 fix from a wide variety of foods that are naturally rich in all types of the fatty acid.

By the numbers:

200-250mg – amount of omega-3 fatty acids in a fortified egg (breakdown unknown)

1600mg/day and 1100mg/day – omega-3 fatty acid recommendations from the Institute of Medicine for men and women (no breakdown in recommendation)

32-50mg – amount of EPA+DHA in 1cup of fortified milk

1000-1500mg – amount of EPA+DHA in 3 ounces of wild Alaskan salmon

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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