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You Ask, I Answer: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

I’m pregnant and my OB/GYN has suggested that I eat a lot of wild salmon for the health and nutritional benefits of the Omega-3′s.

Only problem is, I gag at the smell and sight of fish right now.

So I’ve been trying to use ground flax seed sprinkled in other foods I can manage, like yogurt, fruit salad, toaster waffles and cereal.

I know the flax seed needs to be ground in order to be absorbed, but how much do I need to consume each day in order to get the same benefits as eating a serving of fish?

Are there other good sources of omega-3′s that I should try?

– “My Eggo is Preggo”
White Plains, NY

First of all — congratulations!

Your question is a great one, since it deals with the different varieties of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Although we often refer to “Omega 3 fats” as one general category, there are three different types — Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), EicosoPentaenoic Acid (EPA), and DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA).

ALA is found exclusively in vegetable sources, including walnuts and flaxseeds.

EPA and DHA, meanwhile, are found in large quantities in cold water fish. Grass-fed beef also contains a little.

One concern with getting Omega-3′s solely from vegetable sources is that many people are unable to convert ALA to EPA and DHA.

Fetuses are absolutely unable to make this conversion, so they must get EPA and DHA directly from the mother (DHA is particularly necessary for eye and brain development.)

Even if you, as the mother, are able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, you need approximately 10 grams of ALA just to make 600 milligrams of EPA and 400 of DHA.

To put that into perspective, 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains slightly less than 2 grams of ALA.

One tablespoon of flax oil, meanwhile, delivers 7 grams (one good way to incorporate that into your diet is by adding it into a smoothie).

It’s also important to realize that as good for us as Omega 3 fats are, they do not work alone. Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium are involved in the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.

If you are not consuming enough of those nutrients, your will not convert quite as efficiently (so, say, you might need 15 or 17 grams of ALA to make the quantities of EPA and DHA mentioned above.)

In your situation, I suggest taking an EPA/DHA supplement.

That doesn’t mean you should stop eating ground flaxseeds, though — they are a nutrition all-star!

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous said on August 13th, 2008

    If I’m taking fish oil supplements (2 1000mg capsules with my prenatal vitamin, taken with food) because I can’t eat fish without getting nausious, am I absorbing even close to the same amounts of EPA/DHA as my body would get from a serving of cold water fish?

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