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Fatty Acids: Here’s what to eat to aid your brainpower this deadline season

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Can what you eat really affect your mental and physical performance? Whether you’re preparing for an exam, training for a sports event, or generally trying to support your health, there are certain foods which, according to some experts, can help you along the way.

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Fatty acids are thought to be one of the nutrients which can help promote better cognitive function as well as an improved physical performance. Despite the fact fatty foods have had some bad press in the past, fatty acids such as omega-3 are very much needed as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

What are fatty acids?

Essentially, fatty acids are what happen after the body has digested fats and they are ready to be absorbed into the blood. There are three types, known as:

Polyunsaturated fatty acids - a good memory tag for this type of fatty acid is “oil”, as it comes primarily from sunflower, soybean, flaxseed, olive and various other oils. It’s worth noting that sesame oil contains both polyunsaturated and mono­unsaturated and fats, though generally you will get polyunsaturated fatty acids from the above mentioned oil consumption. Polyunsaturated fats contain Omega-3s and Omega-6s.

Monounsaturated fatty acids - these are also found in oils, but with monounsaturated acids, one pair of hydrogen atoms is missing. Peanuts (and peanut oil), and avocados are good places to find these types of fats.

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Saturated fatty acids - these are highly saturated fats which come from foods such as butter, meat and milk. Coconut oil may well be classed as plant-based but are also very high in saturated fats, which are turned later into saturated fatty acids.

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What is Omega-3 and why is it an essential fatty acid?

Omega-3 is comprised of two essential fatty acids; Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid).

These are classed as ‘essential fatty acids’ in the sense that the body finds it very difficult to produce them unless they are obtained through the food eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet.

There is a huge amount of information and research on the benefits of omega-3, but one of the most recent studies from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) suggests that the overall consumption of oily fish (which is the main source of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids), remains generally low.

Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

It’s never been easier to access foods which are high in omega 3 fatty acids. So long as you don’t go overboard, and eat these foods in moderation, you can enjoy the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

These foods are widely available and it’s possible to buy these foods without breaking the bank. For example, tinned sardines from most supermarkets cost around the same as a branded loaf of bread, and salmon is available in various forms, depending on your budget.

Top recommendations for foods high in fatty acids

Salmon

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Salmon is one of the most nutritious foods you can buy: high in protein, potassium, magnesium, and a variety of B vitamins. On top of this, it’s a superb source of “good” fat which will be broken down into omega 3 fatty acids by the body.

Fresh salmon can be pricey, but if you’re smart about where you shop, and you don't mind going for the frozen or tinned options, you’ll be able to add some to your weekly shop without noticing too much of a difference.

Cod Liver Oil

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Cod liver oil is rich in essential fatty acids. Just a small tablespoon is loaded with more than enough nutrients to keep you going. The oil is extracted from the livers of fish and is incredibly high in omega-3. Just a capsule a day is enough to give you a nutritional boost of essential fatty acids.

Tinned Tuna

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A store cupboard staple and the perfect topping for a baked potato or a pasta bake, tinned tuna is one of the most accessible omega-3 rich options. Choose tinned tuna packed in spring water for almost half a gram of omega-3 fatty acids.

How can I make sure I get enough omega-3 in my diet?

It can be tricky to know if you’re getting enough fatty acids in your diet. If you have a busy schedule or just don’t spend as much time in the kitchen as you would like, an omega-3 supplement could be a good addition to your routine.   

Ultra Omega-3 capsules from Vitabiotics are formulated with high strength, pharmaceutical grade fish oil, a great way to ensure you are getting enough of these essential fatty acids.

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