Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in polyunsaturated fats that are good for the body. Omega-6 is another fatty acid and it is important to maintain the right balance between both these fatty acids. Here we will see the best omega-3 supplements with special reference to EPA – Eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA – docosahexaenoic acid. Both these are found in fatty cold water fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, halibut and sardines, seaweed, mosses, meat, poultry, eggs, krill and algae.
Health effects of omega-3 are got mostly from EPA and DHA. ALA sources need to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. However, many people are unable to make these conversions so that they are effective. The body needs at least 650mg of EPA and DHA every day. The best DHA supplements and EPA supplements are found mostly in fish and fish oil supplements.
Best sources of EPA and DHA
Best sources of EPA and DHA: Seafood
The best DHA supplements and EPA supplements come from seafood. Fish eat plankton that has plenty of omega-3. If we eat 2-4 fatty fish meals a day, we can get the required quantities of long-chain EPA and DHA food. Here is a list of a few fish and their total combined quantities of EPA and DHA:
- Salmon (farmed) – 1830mg
- Tuna (bluefin) – 1,280mg
- Mackerel (Atlantic) – 1,020mg
- Herring (Atlantic) – 1,710mg
- Halibut (Greenland) – 1,000mg
- Sardines (Atlantic) – 830mg
Fish contain contaminants like high levels of mercury, dioxins and PCBs. Farm raised fish are said to be safer but it is best to read government recommendations before consuming any kind of fish.
The five types of fish that contain least amounts of mercury are – salmon, canned light tuna, shrimp, pollock and catfish. Large fish like shark, mackerel, swordfish and tilefish all contain greater quantities of mercury. This is why smaller and younger fish are safer as the levels of mercury in them are much less.
Best sources of EPA and DHA: Meat, Poultry and Eggs
Domestic animals like beef, pork, chicken and turkey contain very little quantities of EPA and DHA. Actually, it is meat from wild animals that have the best EPA supplements because they eat wild grass and mosses rich in this fatty acid. For the best DHA supplements, we must go to pasture-fed animals that showed an increase of 300% of this fatty acid. Similarly, pasture-fed bulls contained the best EPA supplements (700% more) than feedlot animals.
Therefore studies have found that grass-fed animals had a ratio of 4:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 and grain-fed animals 21:1. This imbalance has proved that it is better to eat meat from grass-fed bison. Grass-fed meat is also leaner than grain-fed meat. They also have natural minerals and vitamins in the food.
Similarly, chicken fed on vegetables that are rich in omega-3 fats, green grass and insects produced eggs that had an omega-6 to omega-3 ration of 1.5:1 whereas the supermarket variety had a ratio of 20:1. This again has found the benefit of ‘free range’ chicken and eggs against grain fed ones.
Best sources of EPA and DHA: Some Vegetarian Options
There are millions of people who are vegetarians, vegans, hate fish products or do not believe in taking supplements. Where do these people get their best EPA supplements and best DHA supplements?
Wild ferns, liverworts and mosses, algae and seaweed are some of the best EPA supplements for these people. This is why Japanese do not lack in EPA and DHA for they use these greens in their diet like seaweed salad and sushi.
Vegetarians often consume just 5mg of EPA and 33mg of DHA – far less than the required 650mg. The other problem is that these groups also consume greater quantities of omega-6 that can lead to several health problems. Some experts suggest these groups of people increase their intake of ALA to 4400g from the existing 2200g. Others say that even this is insufficient to produce the required EPA and DHA.
Best sources of EPA and DHA: Enriched Foods
Some of the best DHA supplements can be got from foods enriched with these fatty acids. Some stores have such a wide range that people can get confused by the choice. There is a variety of breads, yogurts, deli meats, juices and sausages that contain sufficient quantities of DHA.
One of the best DHA supplements is whole eggs fortified with DHA. The DHA benefit is contained in the yolk. Some brands of soymilk and margarine also have DHA.
Scientists are trying to find out if ‘transgenic animals’ – those given a gene to create omega-3 – are a viable option. Know the fats being added to your food and make sure you maintain the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6.
DHA And EPA Supplements
Fish oil capsules that contain both DHA and EPA are very popular. The common amount found in most fish oil capsules is 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA. 1g of fish oil gives approximately 9 calories. Different fish oils contain different strengths.
Safe dosage of DHA and EPA
For both adults and children depends on whether they are taking it as a specific medication for an illness or just as a food supplement to improve health. There is no set dosage for children and the doctor must be consulted. For adults, the recommended dosage must not exceed 3g of DHA and EPA per day.
Precautions while taking DHA and EPA
All dietary supplements including DHA and EPA must be taken under medical supervision. Those who have bleeding disorders and are on blood thinning medication must be careful when taking omega-3 supplements. Diarrhea, bloating, gas and belching are some of the side effects of taking fish oil.
Make sure you buy fish oil from reputable companies that test to ensure there are no pesticides and mercury in their supplements.
Both EPA and DHA supplements are required by human beings. Make sure you get enough EPA and DHA (220mg of each) in your body for they are the best omega-3 supplements that offer maximum health benefits. Choose free range meat, poultry and eggs and eat 2 fatty fish meals a day. There are vegetarian options for vegans, so find out foods fortified with these nutrients to get the best benefits. The benefits of eating 1-2 servings of fish per week far outweigh the risks of being exposed to contaminants. Ensure you follow proper regulations when choosing fish.