You’ve probably heard omega-3 fatty acids referred to as “good fats.” While there’s good reason for this nickname, there’s also a lot more to this essential fat. Since they’re such an important part of a healthy diet, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about omega-3s.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Referring to a group of polyunsaturated fats, there are actually three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, DHA and EPA. While ALA is mainly sourced from plants, DHA and EPA generally occur in animal products.

Which foods contain omega-3s?

The most common foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids are fish — especially fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines. Flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are also great sources.

Since the oil of both fish and flax seeds also contains omega-3s, one of the ways that many non-fish eaters get enough of these important fats is by taking a supplement, like a fish oil tablet. This is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, since DHA is crucial to the brain development of babies.

What are the benefits of omega-3s?

There are numerous benefits to eating a diet rich in omega-3s — some more supported by research than others. Regardless, the bottom line is that this nutrient can have significant advantages for both your mental and physical health.

Here are just a few of the most commonly supported benefits of omega-3s:

  • Improve Heart Health. Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in omega-3s can help reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure, raise “good” cholesterol, help prevent the formation of harmful blood clots and prevent the development of plague in your arteries. That’s quite the list.
  • Fight Inflammation. Chronic inflammation in the body can increase your risks of heart disease and cancer, but studies have found a link between eating plenty of omega-3s and reduced inflammation in the body.
  • Fight Autoimmune Diseases. While eating omega-3s shouldn’t necessarily be considered a treatment, research has shown that getting enough omega-3s can combat autoimmune diseases, like type 1 diabetes, lupus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Improve Cognition. Though more research is certainly needed to draw definitive conclusions, some studies have shown positive correlation between a diet rich in omega-3s and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as improving age-related cognitive decline in general.
  • Improve Mental Health. If you eat omega-3s, you could be less likely to be depressed or suffer from anxiety. Further, eating omega-3s has also been shown to improve certain mental disorders, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

And that’s just the start. Other research has shown that omega-3s benefit your skin, your liver, your bones, your sleep…the list goes on and on.

Here’s one more lesser-cited benefit: a diet rich in omega-3s is…delicious. Skip the smelly fish oil supplement and fill your plate with the real deal. In fact, The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per week, especially fatty fish like salmon. And with all the compelling reasons above, it’s not hard to see why.

Start getting more omega-3s today: stock up on wild Alaskan sockeye salmon.

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