Veterans of the weight loss wars are likely familiar with omega-3s as the “healthy fats” that are touted in some popular diets as both general health – particularly heart health – and weight loss blessings.
Omega-3 is an abbreviation for the more correct term “long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids” or “polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids (PUFA)”. They are found in deep-sea fish such as salmon, mackerel, swordfish, and shark, as well as in certain oils (rapeseed) and nuts (walnuts). There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Weight Loss Plans
Here’s how popular diet plans stack up in terms of the amount of omega-3 they suggest:
- The USDA Food Guide Pyramid recommends between 1 and 3 grams of omega-3s per day.
- The Zone Diet and Atkins Diet each recommend between 3 and 4 grams per day.
- The Ornish plan keeps omega-3s to 1 gram or less per day.
Studies have shown that dieting success depends more on reducing calories than on the plan you follow. So, if your goal is weight loss, you may be wondering if the amount of omega-3 foods in your diet makes a difference.
According to researcher Mario Kratz, PhD, an assistant at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a research fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle, the answer is that omega-3s, despite their other health benefits, do not have a direct effect on weight loss.
Many studies have shown that people can lose weight on diets that focus on omega-3, says Kratz. However, when his team did a study comparing the weight loss of two groups of overweight people who, with the exception of omega-3 patients, ate exactly the same foods types of fats used to prepare the foods (omega-3 Fatty acids versus saturated fats), found no difference in weight loss between the two.
“Omega-3s can help with other obesity health outcomes such as heart disease, but regarding those fats that specifically aid in weight loss, I would say if there is any effect it is likely minimal and not clinical Role, ”says Kratz.
Why you should include omega-3s in your diet
Research into the weight loss benefits of these healthy fats is ongoing. The current theory is that these fats:
- Improve glucose sensitivity
- Reduce insulin resistance
- Reduce markers of inflammation
- Speed up fat oxidation by stimulating a specific receptor in the liver that affects fat
All of this means that if you include some fat in your diet, choosing omega-3 fatty acids for weight management will be better than foods that contain saturated fats. On a practical level, this means that choosing salmon for dinner instead of beef, or making foods with canola oil instead of butter, could benefit your weight loss goals.
More Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Even if increasing omega-3 levels doesn’t accelerate weight loss, including it in your diet has many health benefits:
Building a diet for weight loss with omega-3 fatty acids
The changes you make to increase omega-3 fatty acids in your diet should complement your weight loss plan. Consider combining more of these foods with omega-3 fatty acids:
- Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Green leafy vegetables
- Vegetable oils such as canola, flaxseed, and soybeans
- Nuts, with walnuts at the top of the list
While it would be difficult to eat enough fish to get excess calories from adding omega-3 foods, you could go overboard with nuts and oils. So stick to the minimum that you need. Take a supplement to increase your omega-3 intake without consuming any calories. Diet supplements offer the same health benefits without the extra calories.
Even if omega-3s don’t cause weight loss, including them in your diet has many health benefits – and better health is why you want to lose weight.
Find out more at the Everyday Health Weight Center.