Omega-3 fatty acids reel in a lot of attention. They are key components of a healthy diet. Understanding how they work and where to find them will help you maximize their nutritional power.
What are omega-3s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat known as an essential fat. Our bodies need these nutrients to function properly and survive. Since our bodies cannot make omega-3s on our own, we have to get them from our diet—from omega-3 rich foods like fatty fish or from supplements.
Benefits of omega-3s
Research in recent years points to the plentiful health benefits of consuming foods rich in omega-3s. For example, people who eat fish one to four times per week are less likely to die of heart disease. Omega-3 supplements have also been shown to successfully lower triglyceride levels (which is beneficial, as high levels of triglycerides may increase your risk of heart disease). Additionally, research shows omega-3 supplements provide relief for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (NIH, 2018).
How can I add omega-3s to my diet?
There are 3 types of omega-3s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are found in fish, and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which comes from plant sources. The three main sources of omega-3 include:
- Fatty Fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and sardines are the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids. About 3 ounces of mackerel provides about 2.5 grams of omega-3, and the same serving of salmon provides about 1.8 grams.
- Flaxseeds are small brown or yellow seeds. They are often ground, milled or used to make oil. These seeds are by far the richest plant-based source of the omega-3 fat ,ALA. Flaxseed oil is often used as an omega-3 supplement. One tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains about 7.3 grams of omega-3. Milled flax seeds make a great addition to yogurt, protein shakes, salads, and cereals.
- Walnuts are another plant-based source of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA. They are also the only tree nut that is an excellent source of omega-3s, providing 1.7 grams of ALA per one-half cup serving. Walnuts are also high in fiber, manganese, copper and vitamin E. Bonus tip: The skin of the walnut is where the majority of phenol antioxidants are contained.
How much omega-3 do I need?
Dietary guidelines in the United States recommend that adults eat eight or more ounces of a variety of seafood (fish or shellfish) per week (children should eat less). This recommendation provides about 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA, as well as the numerous other nutritional benefits of seafood (OASH, 2020). To make sure to get enough omega 3s, choose fish that are known for their rich omega-3 profile like salmon, cod, and mackerel.
If higher levels of omega-3s are needed for at-risk patients, some health providers may recommend a fish oil supplement with doses ranging up to four grams daily.
Personalize your omega-3 approach
These are the main food sources of omega-3, but there are other food sources that contain the essential fats as well. Schedule an appointment to find more ways to up your daily intake and identify how omega-3s can boost your health.