The Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) and are designated as essential for human body as they cannot be synthesized, and must be acquired from food. There are three most important PUFA’s, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Fish is the richest dietary source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA, are the major omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Plants can provide only alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that appears to have fewer health benefits. Adding small ocean fish, such as anchovies, to your diet increases your omega-3 levels and provides a good source of protein, without adding saturated fat.
Most of the ALA comes from the plant sources such as, flex seed, walnuts, pecans, hazel nuts and kiwi fruit. Some percentage of ALA comes from meat like chicken and beef. ALA plays a role in maintaining healthy body tissues.
Aside from cod liver oil, the majority of commercial fish oils are made with cold-water fish like anchovy, sardines, mackerel, herring and salmon. All of these choices contain relatively comparable amounts of critical DHA and EPA, with salmon oil’s ratio favoring DHA, while anchovies and sardines are slightly richer in EPA. Large fish that are long-lived accumulate toxins in their bodies over time. These species may accumulate toxic substances, like mercury, dioxin, PCB’s, toxic metals such as cadmium, lead, chromium and arsenic, and radioactive substances like strontium. Smaller fish, such as anchovies or sardines, provide plenty of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids without the added concerns
Anchovies have some of the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids of all fish and seafood. A, 3-oz. serving of canned anchovies provides 1.4 g of omega-3 fatty acids. Other fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include Atlantic salmon or herring, blue fin tuna, sardines, Atlantic mackerel. All of these types provide more than 1 g of omega-3 per 3-oz serving.
The anchovy, being an oily fish, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, well known for its ability to lower levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. It is also an excellent source of protein, with a fish of average size providing around 9g of protein and only 55 calories. It is a good source of calcium and particularly of the trace mineral selenium, a powerful antioxidant that is naturally scarce in many parts of the world.
Sardines contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and low amounts of mercury. Pacific sardines contain 2.8 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 6-ounce serving. Sardines also contain omega-6 fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids. Plus, sardines are a good source of protein, vitamin B-12, vitamin D and calcium. Boosting your intake of these essential fatty acids is one of the single most important steps you can take to preserve your health. Anchovy and sardine serve as sources for as much as 90 percent of commercial fish oils.
The importance of omega-3 fatty acids for human nutrition — and especially for heart health became apparent in the 1970s when researchers noticed the diet of Eskimos in Greenland and discovered this population had lower blood cholesterol levels than other Danish or Western groups. Because the Eskimo diet was found to be higher in fat from fish, the researchers attributed the more favorable blood cholesterol levels to the long chain polyunsaturated fats — or omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are now known to be a “good fat” and are considered a vital part of a balanced diet. Evolving research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial part of cell membranes. Our bodies have over 100 trillion cells, and omega-3 fatty acids help many of these cells function properly. They are also well known for their role in helping to prevent heart disease through their potential ability to regulate blood clotting, keep the heart beating on its normal rhythm, prevent/improve inflammation, reduce blood pressure, improve blood vessel function, improve cholesterol levels, lower triglycerides. Additionally, we also know now that EPA helps keep body tissues healthy and DHA is a major component of cell membranes in the eyes and brain. Helps maintain/support cardiovascular health. Helps to reduce serum triglycerides/ triacylglycerol and support cognitive health and/or brain functions.
DHA help maintain healthy function of the following: brain and retina: DHA is a building block of tissue in the brain and retina of the eye. It helps with forming neural transmitters, such as phosphatidylserine, which is important for brain function. DHA is found in the retina of the eye and is necessary for maintaining normal eye function.
DHA plays a very important role during fetal development, early infancy and old age: High concentrations of DHA are found in the brain and increase 300 to 500 percent in an infant’s brain during the last trimester of pregnancy.
In the body ALA a shorter 18 carbon and 3 double (unsaturated) bonds must convert to EPA, a medium 20 carbon and 5 double bonds. The process takes place in 3 chain reactions. EPA is then converted to the most crucial 22 carbon and 6 double bonds, DHA, by another 4, chain reactions: First of all the ability to make the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids is impaired in aging and in these processes most of the ALA and some of the EPA are washed out. After the age of just five years, the development of the brain and CNS starts to reduce and the body’s need for DHA reduces, but in old age it increases many folds.
Although both EPA and DHA help reduce bad cholesterol, DHA outperforms EPA in reducing total triglyceride counts and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. Body should always have ample quantity of EPA to replenish DHA. Although the ratio of EPA to DHA in Atlantic salmon is very desirable as 1 to1, it may have more toxins than Anchovies and Sardines, which has a ratio of EPA to DHA as 3 to 2.