Taking omega-3 fatty acid

Benefits of omega-3 fatty acid

By contrast to artificial trans fatty acid that does mere harm just as cigarette does, omega-3 fatty acid provides a variety of health benefits to the human body. Many studies have revealed that omega-3 fatty acid has a positive effect particularly on the nervous system and the circulatory system. It also lowers the risks of contracting allergy and promoting cancer, which omega-6 fatty acid heightens if taken too much.

Omega-3 fatty acid benefit people of any age group: children develop their brains, adults can deter lifestyle related diseases, and the elderly are without dementia - even a fetus in the womb is thought to be influenced by the amount of omega-3 fatty acid provided through the placenta, or the amount of it the mother ingests.

The problem is that people are prone to lack omega-3 fatty acid intake because only a part of organisms on the planet contain it in their bodies. Should you fall short of the fatty acid, you might have trouble in the nervous system or circulatory system. If not got sick, you would somewhat worsen your physical and mental conditions. It is a pity to undermine your health by making small mistakes on your daily food choices.

Eating marine products

Among omega-3 fatty acid, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are synthesized by the phytoplankton in water to be passed on to other aquatic species on the food chain. In particular, oily fish including mackerel, tuna (oily part), sardine, saury, yellowtail, salmon, and herring are abundant in omega-3 fatty acid, and so I advise you to take them frequently. They are also excellent sources of protein and vitamin D, both of which are important nutrients. Other fish including freshwater fish contains the fatty acid, if not as much as the fish mentioned above. Other marine products are generally low in oil, and contain a slight omega-3 fatty acid. Among them are squid, octopus, shellfish, shrimps, crabs, algae, etc.

The amount of omega-3 fatty acid in fish depends more on the fish's lipid content rather than on its omega-3 proportion of the total fatty acid: omega-3 proportions range from 15 to 35 percent in most fish - including cultured fish and freshwater fish, while the content of lipid varies from near 0 to around 20 percent of the mass. This indicates that you can eat any oily fish to better take in omega-3 fatty acid.

Incidentally, carp streamers, which are seen swimming in the air around April to May every year across Japan, contain no omega-3 fatty acid, as foods they devour is made of gases including nitrogen, oxygen, and argon with no fatty acid. Even if the fish should accidentally get some insects in the mouth, they can never take in the bugs' nutrients within their bodies because they carp streamers have no digestive system to begin with. The fish might have degenerated its useless organs to get lighter when it evolved to move from the water up into the air.

It is often alarmed that some fish and whales are contaminated with little but poisonous chemicals such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB). Therefore, people should not consume them too much. Especially pregnant women and nursing mothers are advised to be cautious about what they eat because fetuses and babies are vulnerable to poisonous substances. However, some researchers say that the benefit of omega-3 outweighs the harm of mercury. To reason out this dilemma, I suggest choosing not larger fish but smaller ones: because life higher up on the food chain generally contains higher concentrations of poisonous chemicals. Dolphins, whales, marlin, shark, tuna are positioned at the top of the marine food chain, and are relatively high in mercury concentration.

To efficiently get omega-3 fatty acid from fish, the oil should remain as much as possible after cooking. When you boil fish, you had better boil it with less water, or with less salty water to drink all the soup. In grilling fish, you can reduce the leakage of fish oil by coating the fish with flour or something: starch or rice flour just works as flour does, but you ought not to use crumb containing shortening.

Vegetable oils rich in alpha-linolenic acid

Omega-3 fatty acid in the terrestrial plants is alpha-linolenic acid. However, typical vegetable oils do not contain omega-3 fatty acid very much. Rapeseed oil and soybean oil do have the oil to some degree, but they are abundant in linoleic acid. So, it is not effective to take these oils for the purpose of reducing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Meanwhile, flaxseed oil and perilla oil are rich in alpha-linolenic acid: they account for around 50 to 60 percent as that precious oil.

As alpha-linolenic acid is vulnerable to oxidization, it needs to be preserved with as little exposure to light or heat as possible. This is why vegetable oils rich in this oil are sold in boxes or lightproof bottles. It might be better to hydrogenate these oils to long preserve them, but such a conduct results in losing key omega-3 fatty acid and producing redundant trans fat. In fact, these oils are usually squeezed from the original vegetables without chemical process because they are merchandized as health food. Under such circumstances, antioxidants in the plants are extracted along with the oils, which gives some shelf life to the tender alpha-linolenic acid.

Flaxseed oil is extracted from linseed, or flax's seed. Although flax is barely cultivated in Japan, flaxseed oil is being imported from Canada. You can find flaxseed oil manufactured by Omega Nutrition Corp. and one by Flora Corp. on the Internet. Perilla oil is produced in Japan, which is available at supermarkets or natural food stores.

Be careful in buying these oils because they are expensive. Another reason is their possibility of being faked: you can hardly tell whether an oil is genuine or not, as they have been completely transformed from the original plants. Despite a persuasive claim on the package of an oil, the content might actually be diluted with a cheap refined oil. You would run the higher risk of choosing fake oils particularly when mass media accidentally take up these healthy oils followed by sprouting companies that take advantage of the craze to make money. To avoid such a risk, you should buy an oil that discloses its source, how it extracted, and what the manufacturer is. Moreover, if the manufacturer is giving a detailed explanation of an oil, then you can expect it to be a genuine one. Should you buy otherwise, you could be cheated by evil companies as well as funding them.

Cautious people have an alternative: to get perilla seeds. By taking the unprocessed food, you can lower the risk of such a deceit. The perilla seed itself is tasty due to its high oil content. There are white variety and black one. Of these, the black seeds are smaller than the white ones and have higher oil content, which produces richer taste. You can eat perilla seeds, without cooking them, by only sprinkling them on the rice or something.

Alpha-linolenic acids in flaxseed oil and perilla oil are said to be oxidized if heated. I do not know to what extent they spoil by heat, but it will be best eating them fresh - say, by salad dressings of these oils - to make the most of the health oils. You can choose other oils in frying. If you are already using your own dressings in your diet, you can increase omega-3 intake by replacing the current oil with flaxseed oil. And, for those people who did not make dressings ever, I introduce you my dressing recipe in which flaxseed oil is used.

Flaxseed oil dressing

(1) flaxseed oil (or perilla oil)
(2) vegetable oil: sesame oil, extra virgin olive oil, or others
(3) vinegar
(4) flavorins and spices: soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne, curry powder, etc
(5) soybean flour (optional)

The ratio of oils to vinegar is around 2:1 (or flaxseed oil, vegetable oil, and vinegar are 1:1:1, which should be simple). Vegetable oil (number 2) can be the same oil as the number 1 oil. Flavoring and spice are chosen at your discretion. Incidentally, both vinegar and spices are said to have some health effect. If soybean flour is added to the dressing, the oil and vinegar will better blend each other after stirring them. And a plentiful soybean flour can even make the dressing semi-solid. Other fine particles instead of soybean flour also produce these effects, though, raw flour or starch cannot be used because they do not digest well in the body.

If you do not consume all the dressing at once, get it into a bottle or something, and preserve it in a refrigerator. You can also blend water-soluble vinegar, flavorings and spices in a bottle. Every time you want dressing, pour the liquid in a small dish to blend with oil and soybean flour. You should find it easy to wash the emptied bottle that is oil free.

Fatty Acids and Health

What is a fatty acid?
Trans fatty acid
Trans fat regulation
Avoiding trans fat
Taking omega-3 fatty acid


Omega-3 fatty acid (Wikipedia)
Food Composition Database (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)
Q&A on mercury in fish (Japanese Consumers' Cooperative Union)

© 2007 Takashi Shimazaki
Updated: April 14, 2013