Essential for good health, omega-3 fatty acids are an untapped fat-burning resource, but only one in every 10 Australians gets enough.
Active women are savvy enough to know the scales don’t show the whole picture. Being fit and fabulous means building strength and muscle as well as melting fat. Unfortunately, whenever we lose fat, we lose some precious muscle along with it.
But it is possible, when losing weight, to tip the balance towards losing pure fat, and boost your overall health at the same time. Research shows combining omega-3s with exercise is the secret to becoming leaner.
A fat-loss booster
Kara Landau, Accredited Practising Dietitian of travellingdietitian.com, says a number of strong studies are starting to show that exercise plus omega-3 fatty acids results in higher weight loss, and most importantly, greater fat loss.
The combination of exercise and omega-3s can turn on enzymes involved in burning fat, but they need a driver like exercise to do so, according to Professor Peter Howe from the University of South Australia, who researches nutritional physiology. In one six-week study, participants who took just four grams of fish oil a day lost half a kilo more fat than those taking safflower oil.
An overall health tonic
Improving our body composition is just one of the documented benefits of omega-3s. They’re best known for treating heart disease and joint pain, and looking after our vision, cognitive performance, and mental health. These “essential” fatty acids are exactly that: our bodies need them but can’t make them, so we have to eat them.
For physical and mental health, Australian health authorities recommend women consume between 400 and 500 milligrams of long-chain omega-3s a day. You’ll see them listed in nutritional panels as EPA, DHA and DPA. Unbeatable sources are oily fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel, perch, sardines and herring. Vegetarians should seek out eggs that are omega-3 fortified, from hens that are fed greens, flax seeds and insects. They contain about 50 milligrams more omega-3s than other eggs. Eating flax seeds, walnuts and chia seeds also provides you with the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, but this type is more difficult for the body to use.
Cheat’s guide to getting enough
Put meals like these on regular rotation to reap the benefits of adequate omega-3s:
- Breakfast: scramble omega-3 enriched eggs with a tablespoon of chia seeds, some vanilla, cinnamon, stevia and milk, and top them with berries and yoghurt. This one isn’t just for breakfast – this is a favourite of Landau’s for any time of day.
- Workday lunch: a tin of tuna, a punnet of cherry tomatoes and a diced Lebanese cucumber.
- Afternoon snack: vegetable sticks with a tuna dip. Blend tuna, pickled cucumbers, spring onions, lemon juice, tomato sauce and mayonnaise.
- Evening out: visit a Japanese restaurant for the teriyaki salmon and veggies.
Another plus of these fish- and egg-based meals is their high protein content – exactly what your muscles crave so they can rebuild themselves after a tough workout.
What about omega-3 supplements?
If you don’t want to eat a lot of fish, you can buy fish oil, krill oil, and calamari oil capsules which will each give you at least 300 milligrams, but Landau is a fan of algae-based supplements because they come from a sustainable source. While supplements are convenient, Landau suggests you focus more on food. “This way you reap the range of nutritional benefits from all the foods, and don’t get bored.”
Words by Louise Wedgewood