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Although fat used to get a bad rap, we now know that some fats, particularly the omega fatty acids (also known as essential fatty acids), are crucial for good health. Omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids have their benefits, but the nutritional stars are the omega-3s, including the tongue-twisting fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Thankfully, you don’t have to be able to pronounce them in order to get their benefits. Studies suggest that omega-3s can alleviate an enormous range of ailments, from depression to rheumatoid arthritis. The biggest boon is to heart health; numerous studies show that consumption of omega-3s can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Plant sources of omega-3s include nuts and seeds, especially flaxseed oil or ground flaxseeds. Omega-3s are found in lesser amounts in whole grains, legumes, and green leafy vegetables. The adequate intake guideline developed by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine recommends that men consume 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day, and that women consume 1.1 grams daily. If you’re looking for easy ways to up your intake, you can buy foods from granola bars to truffles spiked with omega-3s, and even eggs and milk from animals fed omega-3-rich diets. Check labels to be sure you’re getting some benefit, but don’t sweat the numbers too much: The consensus is that simply eating a varied, healthful diet rich in sources of omega-3s is the best approach.