How Testing My Omega-3 Index Changed The Way I Eat
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I would consider myself “Heart Smart.” I understand that having a healthy lifestyle – by eating well, moving more, not smoking, managing stress, getting adequate sleep and engaging in social time – can support the health of my heart. I recognize the role of omega-3 fatty acids and the importance of including them in the diet, especially as it relates to heart health.
So, when MEG-3 asked me if I would be interested in getting to know my omega-3 levels in preparation for World Heart Day on September 29, of course I said “YES!” Knowledge about my own health can help me see what I am doing right – or what I need to improve on. And I was fairly confident that my results would be favorable. After all, yearly blood lipid panels showed my cholesterol and triglyceride numbers were getting better, not worse, so I assumed that other numbers related to heart health would bring good news as well.
TESTING MY OMEGA-3 INDEX
With an at-home, easy-to-use test kit from OmegaQuant that involved a quick finger prick, I collected a blood sample and sent it away to the OmegaQuant lab for analysis.
I wondered what my results would show. In the months and years leading up to the test, I strived to follow recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to consume at least 8 ounces of oily fish per week.1 I ordered salmon when out to eat (this was an easy choice, because I love salmon anyway!), enjoyed skipjack tuna as part of a quick lunch, and I even made an effort to choose sardines more often. I would add walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and other healthy nuts and seeds (sources of plant-based omega-3s like ALA) to my oatmeal, overtop breakfast cereal, in my salads, in smoothie bowls, in energy bites and as part of a trail mix.
But, even though I had the best intentions, enjoying oily fish often did not always happen. So, I would occasionally add in a quality dietary supplement offering omega-3 EPA and DHA to my supplement routine. I wondered and hoped that what I had been doing would be enough.
MY OMEGA-3 INDEX RESULTS
In less than 10 days after sending my test kit in, my personalized report from OmegaQuant appeared in my email inbox. With excitement, I opened the report. Here is what I found:
- My Omega-3 Index, my Omega-6:Omega-3 Ratio, and my AA:EPA ratio ranked in the “Intermediate” range. To my disappointment, that meant that my numbers were not “Desirable.” But the good news is that the numbers were not “Undesirable” either.
- My Trans Fat Index ranked in the “Desirable” range.
WHAT MY OMEGA-3 INDEX RESULTS MEAN
Because studies suggest that those who have a higher Omega-3 Index are in a better position to support their heart, brain and eye health, it makes sense to raise my numbers from “Intermediate” to “Desirable.”2-11 It also would be valuable for me to improve my Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio and my AA:EPA ratio.
To do this, eating more omega-3 fatty acids is key. I used the Omega-3 Index Calculator and discovered that I should choose around 600mg of EPA+DHA per day in order to reach a more desirable Index.
I am now preparing salmon at home for dinner more often. Why? Just one 3-ounce portion of wild salmon contains more than 1500mg of EPA and DHA. Plus, I happen to love salmon – so it just makes sense to enjoy it more often. I have always been a little intimidated about preparing salmon on my own, so I am exploring new recipes to discover which I like best. Other fish like sea bass, scallops and pollock are making their way into my at-home eats, too.
I also recognize that I need to be more consistent with choosing my omega-3 dietary supplement daily. Formerly, I would have my dietary supplement whenever I remembered it and/or as a response to not eating oily fish within that week. However, now I recognize that what I had been doing before just was not enough for a desirable Omega-3 Index, so getting more consistent in my consumption of oily fish and taking my dietary supplement of EPA and DHA daily is even more important to me.
I created a checklist to help me monitor how much EPA and DHA I consume and to help me stay on track. I hang this 2-week tracker chart on the inside of my kitchen cabinet and notate which foods and dietary supplements I have daily. You can download the one-page EPA and DHA Tracker here.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU
My numbers tell me that historically, I have not chosen enough omega-3 EPA and DHA to reach cardioprotective levels. But, I am not alone. In fact, most Americans – specifically 95.7 percent of Americans – do not get enough EPA and DHA daily.12
To better understand your health and your next steps, consider testing your Omega-3 Index. Then, based on your results, set small goals for yourself to help you reach a more desirable Omega-3 Index. For me, that means saying “YES!” to eating oily fish more often and getting more consistent with my fish oil supplementation.
As always, check with your qualified healthcare practitioner to determine a plan of action that is right for you.
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
2. Block RC, Harris WS, Reid KJ, Sands SA, Spertus JA. EPA and DHA in blood cell membranes from acute coronary syndrome patients and controls. Atherosclerosis. 2007;197:821-828
3. Siscovick DS, Raghunathan TE, King I, Weinmann S, Wicklund KG, Albright J, Bovbjerg V, Arbogast P, Smith H, Kushi LH, et al. Dietary intake and cell membrane levels of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of primary cardiac arrest. JAMA. 1995;274:1363-1367
4. Albert CM, Campos H, Stampfer MJ, Ridker PM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Ma J. Blood levels of long-chain n-3 fatty acids and the risk of sudden death. The New England journal of medicine. 2002;346:1113-1118
5. Otsuka R, Tange C, Nishita Y, Kato Y, Imai T, Ando F, Shimokata H. Serum docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acid and risk of cognitive decline over 10 years among elderly japanese. European journal of clinical nutrition. 2014;68:503-509
6. Tan ZS, Harris WS, Beiser AS, Au R, Himali JJ, Debette S, Pikula A, Decarli C, Wolf PA, Vasan RS, Robins SJ, Seshadri S. Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging. Neurology. 2012;78:658-664
7. Pottala JV, Yaffe K, Robinson JG, Espeland MA, Wallace R, Harris WS. Higher rbc epa + dha corresponds with larger total brain and hippocampal volumes: Whims-mri study. Neurology. 2014;82:435-442
8. Kulzow N, Witte AV, Kerti L, Grittner U, Schuchardt JP, Hahn A, Floel A. Impact of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on memory functions in healthy older adults. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD. 2016;51:713-725
9. Johnston DT, Deuster PA, Harris WS, Macrae H, Dretsch MN. Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and neurocognitive performance in deployed u.S. Servicemembers. Nutr Neurosci. 2013;16:30-38
10. Lin PY, Chiu CC, Huang SY, Su KP. A meta-analytic review of polyunsaturated fatty acid compositions in dementia. J Clin.Psychiatry. 2012;68:140-147
11. Merle BM, Benlian P, Puche N, Bassols A, Delcourt C, Souied EH. Circulating omega-3 fatty acids and neovascular age-related macular degeneration. Investigative ophthalmology & visual science. 2014;55:2010-2019
12. Murphy RA, Yu EA, Ciappio ED, Mehta S, McBurney MI. Suboptimal Plasma Long Chain n-3 Concentrations are Common among Adults in the United States, NHANES 2003–2004. Nutrients. 2015;7:10282-9. doi: 10.3390/nu/125534.
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