What Are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated –the healthy kind of fats. This type of fat is typically liquid at room temperature and even when chilled. Omega 3 fats are considered heart healthy because they help lower blood cholesterol levels.
Three types of omega 3 fatty acids:
- Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Plants produce ALA, while EPA and DHA are found in seafood.
What Role Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Play During Pregnancy?
Your OB/GYN may encourage you to consume foods containing omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy, since this type of fat provides an important health benefit to your unborn baby. Omega 3 fats boost fetal brain and eye development during the third trimester and even in the first months of life. They have also been shown to reduce perinatal depression.
Where Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Come From?
Omega 3 fat appears naturally in the following foods:
- Soybean oil
- Canola oil
- Some seafood, including: salmon, bluefish, herring, anchovies, tuna, trout, sea bass and sardines. Fish caught in the wild contain higher amounts of omega 3 fats than farm-raised fish
- Fish oil capsules may be beneficial for women who don’t like seafood
Some milk products, orange juice, eggs and yogurt are now fortified with omega 3 fats. Read food labels to determine which products have been supplemented with these beneficial fats.
How Much Omega 3 Do I Need?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends pregnant or breastfeeding women eat at least two 8-12 ounce servings of fish or shellfish per week. Fish caught in local streams, rivers or lakes are considered a better option than farmed fish.
Isn’t Seafood High in Mercury?
Yes. Even though some seafood is rich in beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, most fish and shellfish also contain mercury. Although small amounts of mercury are not harmful, high levels can lead to nervous system damage in unborn babies.
Most obstetricians agree the benefits gained from eating foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids far outweigh any potential risks.
To avoid consuming high levels of mercury:
- Choose short-lived fish such as salmon, pollock, shrimp or catfish
- Avoid eating long living predator fish like swordfish, king mackerel and shark
- Opt for chunk light tuna over white albacore, which contains higher mercury levels
- Monitor local fish advisories