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Omega-3s as a Functional Food: Fatty Acids in Cereal and More

Found in everything from eggs to eye cream, are you getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet?
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Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Primer continued...

Studies suggest that ALAs can confer health benefits, and experts recommend getting at least 2 grams daily. But most of the research establishes the health benefits of DHAs and EPAs, which is why many dietitians encourage people to focus on getting these omega-3s in their diet.

That includes pregnant women, says Gerbstadt. She says research suggests that when pregnant women get at least 200 milligrams of DHA a day, their babies excel in cognitive development. And the effects seem to linger long after supplementation ends, Gerbstadt tells WebMD. But, to avoid issues concerning mercury-tainted fish, some experts suggest pregnant women get their omega-3s from algae-based supplements. Others recommend limiting the amount of fish per week to two servings per week and completely avoiding fish high in mercury.

Overload: Can You Get Too Many Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

With so many foods fortified with omega-3s, can you ever get too much?

It's "very unlikely," Gerbstadt tells WebMD. Without supplements, it's hard to over-consume omega-3s in the typical American diet. Yet, there are concerns for those on anti-clotting drugs, as fish oil supplements (EPA/DHA) may have an anti-clotting feature. Yet there is little evidence that an intake of less than 3 grams a day could cause bleeding.

Seeking a Healthy Ratio: The Risks of Omega-6 Fatty Acids

One fatty acid we may get too much of is omega-6. The typical American gets 11 to 30 times more omega-6s than omega-3s -- when the ratio should be a healthy four to one.

"Omega-3s and omega-6s compete," says Moores. "Say the omega-6s vie for hormones to do one thing in your body; well omega-3s want those same hormones to do something else." That struggle can result in a rise in blood pressure, heart problems, and inflammation, which is why "it's so important to strike a balance between them," Moores says.

To strike the right balance, enjoy fish, leafy greens, or functional foods fortified with DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. While research delves into the ways that omega-3s are important to body and brain, one thing is certain: these healthy fats are essential to good health.

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Reviewed on March 30, 2011

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