Omega 3s- from Pregnancy to Pensions

By now you will have all likely heard about some the virtues of omega-3 fatty acids. Stories of their wonder abound in the health news pages, clinical studies, diet books and the like, all with good cause. But do you know the full story? Omega-3 fatty acids are incredible health-promoting compounds that are vital from preconception all the way to cashing in our pensions.

Omega-3s are building blocks of the brain and nervous system and adequate amounts are imperative during gestation and the early years of life.  One study showed that four year olds whose mothers supplemented with omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy scored higher on Mental Processing Tests than the children of the mothers in the control group.

Omega-3s also promote good mental health in both children and adults alike. A great number of studies continue to show that children who suffer from behavioural problems have low levels of essential fatty acids in their blood. What is not yet clear is whether this is due to insufficient dietary intake or due to a problem in metabolizing the fatty acids. Encouragingly, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to reduce both the symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder.

Moving along the lifespan, omega-3s are powerful tools in preventing cardiovascular disease. They have been found to lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, as well as reducing systemic inflammation which is a key aggravator of not only cardiovascular disease, but also cancer, diabetes and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

It doesn’t stop there. Studies have also shown that those with a healthy dietary intake of omega-3s are less likely to have age-related macular degeneration.  They have also been shown to reduce bone loss in women over the age of 65, a key concern in the prevention or mitigation of osteoporosis.

I could go on, but I think it is clear – omega-3 fatty acids serve multiple roles in promoting health and preventing life-threatening illness.  So where can I get some of these omega-3s? There are two vital omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA), that the body requires. These can be found in oily fleshed, cold water fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and sablefish. 

Plant based sources, such as flaxseeds, hempseeds, chia seeds and walnuts contain a precursor omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid called ALA) that the body must then convert to the more powerful EPA and DHA. They aren’t as rich of a source as the fish; however, they are easy to incorporate into your daily diet and are a great option for vegetarians.  Omega-3 eggs are also now available which can help you increase your daily intake of these fantastic fatty acids.

The recipe of the week is packed full of omega-3s, easy to prepare and one the whole family will like. My mum used to make these for us growing up and I have continued the tradition as both my husband and I love the flavours, but the kids also give it two thumbs up.

Nana’s Salmon Cakes

Serves 4

1 large baking potato (or 2 medium)

2 tins of wild sockeye salmon (drained, flaked and skin removed)

Zest and juice of whole lemon

3 Tbsp chopped parsley

salt and pepper

drizzle (1-2 tsp or so) Olive oil

Optional: Caper mayonnaise

2 Tbsp light mayonnaise

2 Tbsp natural yogurt

1 Tbsp drained capers, finely chopped

½ tsp of lemon zest

Mix all ingredients together.


Peel potatoes, chop into large segments and boil until soft, about 10 minutes. Mash with a potato masher and set aside to cool slightly. Drain salmon tins of brine and put salmon in large bowl.  I remove the skin and crumble the bones with my fingers. Combine the mashed potatoes and flaked salmon in a bowl.  Zest a whole lemon into the mix and squeeze in juice from lemon. Season with salt and pepper. Form hockey puck sized patties.  If time, chill the patties for an hour or so before cooking. Heat olive oil in non-stick frying pan and sauté salmon cakes on each side until golden brown, approximately 3 minutes a side.

I serve the cakes on top of a lightly dressed green salad and add a dollop of caper mayonnaise and wedge of lemon. If your kids aren’t fans of salad, serve with a side of steamed broccoli or on top of home-made mushy peas.

TIP: double the recipe and freeze formed patties for a quick, yummy dinner for those busy nights.  Partially defrost before sautéing and then finish off in hot oven for 5-10 minutes to ensure heated through.

Eat Well. Be Well.


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Frangou S, Lewis M, McCrone P et al. Efficacy of ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid in bipolar depression: randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study. Br J Psychiatry. 2006;188:46-50

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Frölich J, Döpfner M., The treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders with polyunsaturated fatty acids – an effective treatment alternative?. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother. 2008 Mar;36(2):109-16.

Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA., Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics. 2003 Jan;111(1):e39-44.

Lespérance F, Frasure-Smith N, St-André E, Turecki G, Lespérance P, Wisniewski SR. The efficacy of omega-3 supplementation for major depression: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Psychiatry. 2011 Aug;72(8):1054-62. Epub 2010 Jun 15.

Martins JG. EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Oct;28(5):525-42.

Seddon JM, Rosner B, Sperduto RD, Yannuzzi L, Haller JA, Blair NP, Willett W. Dietary fat and risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration. Arch Opthalmol. 2001;119(8):1191-1199.

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