Omegas: The Lowdown on Fatty Acids

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | January 18, 2016

Omega-3 fatty acids are arguably the most researched compounds in nutrition science. Their health benefits are well established in the world of medicine and nutrition and, yet, they remain misunderstood among the masses. We’re here to help! With a little insight and explanation into the world of fatty acids, you’ll be better equipped with the knowledge you need to keep those healthy eating goals all year long!

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning they can not be made in our bodies, making it essential we get them through our diets. There are three types of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA,) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA.)

EPA plays a major role in heart health and helps reduce inflammation in our bodies, a major cause of chronic disease and illness. DHA plays a major role in cell integrity, brain function, brain cell development, and can even help improve vision and skin health. ALA is converted into EPA and DHA for use.


Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, bluefin and albacore tuna, bluefish, black cod, rainbow trout, mackerel, and anchovies are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed meats and dairy products also contain omega-3 fatty acids, though to a lesser degree. The ALA omega-3 can specifically be found in chia seeds, flax seeds, flaxseed oil, seaweed, soybeans, and walnuts. Vegetarians, vegans and those with a fish allergy can consume these seeds or use supplements, and some processed or packaged foods are available in varieties fortified with omega-3 fatty acids (for example orange juice, chocolate milk, peanut butter, eggs, and yogurt.)

Health Effects

High levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood are associated with lower levels of cardiovascular disease, including lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, and lower incidence of a heart attack. Some studies also point to improvements in symptoms of depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Omega-3’s have been studied so thoroughly that they have also been linked to improvements in eczema, adult dry eye, and improvements in symptoms associated with sickle cell disease.


Individual needs vary depending on age, health status, diet and activity level. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish 2 times per week. The World Health Organizations recommends consuming 300mg-500mg of EPA and DHA and 800 of ALA from either natural food sources or a supplement.

Interested in the benefits you might be missing out on? Talk to a physician or Registered Dietitian about your personal omega-3 needs. With a more in depth look at your diet and lifestyle, a recommendation can be made that may not only help lower your risk of developing chronic disease, but help you live a healthier life.

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles's profile picture

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/ Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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