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Ask Tufts Experts October 2010 Issue

Q: I’m confused by something in the new TV ads for Total cereal, which mention a “Daily Value” (DV) for omega-3 fatty acids. According to the cereal’s website, “Total Plus Omega-3s cereal contains 160 mg of ALA per serving from ground flax, which is 10% of the Daily Value for ALA.” Is there really a DV for omega-3s— and what about the omega-3s found in fish?

Answer :  Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, answers that there is no Daily Value for the omega-3s found in fish (EPA and DHA) at this time, because the data were inadequate to set such a dietary target. The value for ALA, found in flaxseed and other plant sources, is not actually a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), but rather an Adequate Intake (AI)—an amount thought to promote health. For ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the figure is 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams for women.

Keep in mind, however, that the body must convert ALA—found in sources such as flaxseed, walnuts, soy foods and green leafy vegetables— into the more complex omega-3s found in fish. The efficiency of this conversion is very low, so the best way to obtain the omega-3s most commonly associated with heart health and other benefits is to eat fish, not cereal.

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