A majority of doctors, naturopaths, dietitians agree that having more omega-3 fats in the diet is good for health. There are three main omega-3 fats; alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in food.

We can get lots of ALA by eating ground flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts, for example, while fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring are rich in EPA and DHA. These fats are also all available in over-the-counter supplements. Flaxseed supplements are high in ALA; fish, krill and algal supplements are high in EPA and DHA.

Despite their availability, evidence shows that most people in North America are not getting enough of these important fats in their diets. Low levels in our diet mean low levels in our bodies. And this may be linked with higher risk for some health complications, such as coronary heart disease and depression.

A new online survey was carried to study what young adults know about omega-3 fats and their link to various health outcomes.

What do young adults know?

Developing this survey was important for a few reasons. As it's been a long time since a survey about dietary omega-3 fats was conducted. The boom in social media means that people now get nutrition information from a lot of different sources in addition to health-care professionals. Third, many nutrition surveys are done with older adults.

However, dietary habits established as a young adult have a high chance of being maintained throughout a person's lifetime. So the researchers conducted their study with more than 800 young adult participants in the Guelph community.

Heart and brain health

Another key finding from this survey was that four out of five young adults recognized omega-3s as linked with heart, metabolic and brain health. While most young adults seem to know about the health benefits of omega-3 fats, only 40% (two out of five) reported purchasing or consuming omega-3 foods. Only 21% (one out of five) reported taking omega-3 supplements.

This study highlights the disconnect that exists between awareness of omega-3 health benefits and consumption of omega-3 fats. Now it's time to brainstorm new ways to increase intake of these important dietary fats.

Social media solutions

Another tool that could be used more often by health-care professionals is social media. What is clear is that there is no one solution to increase omega-3 levels in the general Canadian population. We will undoubtedly have to tailor dietary advice differently for different people. But the good news is that young adults seem to know a lot about the health benefits of omega-3s.