With the growing number of supermarket products proclaiming the benefits of their Omega-3 status, consumers may have a difficult time determining which are healthier.
According to experts, some types of Omega-3 fatty acids are better than others.
A tasteless, odourless powder that usually consists of purified fish oil from sardines and anchovies, Omega-3 fatty acids — which are now added to orange juice, eggs, bread and yogourt, among other items — promise myriad health benefits.
A study from the University of Pittsburgh in March 2007 found that Omega-3 fatty acidsincreased grey matter in areas of the brain commonly linked to mood and behaviour. Recent studies have also linked it to an improvement in inflammatory conditions, depressive symptoms, heart health, diabetes and Alzheimer's.
But some expertswarn that not all Omega-3s are the same and adding them to foods can reduce their health benefits.
"As we've seen so many times in history in nutrition, when you isolate something from a food and put it into a pill, it doesn't perform the same way," Joe Schwarcz, a chemistry professor at McGill University in Montreal, told CBC News.
Schwarcz takes issue with products whose Omega-3 source is flax or canola oil. "I don't mean to at all demean the importance of consuming those seeds, but the omega fats are not as good as the ones found in fish."
Consumers need to educate themselves about which Omega-3s to look for, registered dietician Jenn Sygo said.
"If the product contains Omega-3s DHA and EPA, which come from fish oil, there are probably health benefits," she said."If it says it contains flax oil, that's not DHA.So you have to be a little bit savvy."
Sygosaid products like eggscan have very different levels of Omega 3s depending on their brand.
She advises thatadults get 500 milligrams of DHA and EPA a day for heart protection. She also said they should be wary of the amounts of Omega-3s in the products they consume.A single serving of yogurt often onlycontains 40 mg of Omega-3s —a far cry from the suggested daily amount, she said.
For that reason,Sygo recommends people increase their fish consumption. "One 3½-ounce serving, about the size of the palm of your hand, will provide you with somewhere around 2000 mg of EPA and DHA."
For those people who don't like fish or are worried about its mercury content, Sygo suggests fish oil supplements.
Canada's food guide recommends that people eat two servings (of 75 grams each) of fish a week.