You may have heard some buzz about omega-3s. Maybe your doctor told you to get more omega-3s. Or, maybe you’ve seen it tossed around with “anti-inflammatory diets” and the Mediterranean diet. The truth is, we all should know about omega-3s (and we should be eating them every day).
What are omega-3s?
Omega-3s are a class of fatty acids that we get from food and/or convert in our body. Fatty acids help with hormonal processes, cell membrane integrity and decreasing inflammation. There are all sorts of fatty acids. Some are more helpful than others.
Omega-3s are very helpful! They fall into the healthy unsaturated fat category.
Benefits of Omega-3s
- Fight inflammation: They inhibit the release of inflammatory mechanisms that our body produces during stress, illness or disease (1). In other words, they help reduce inflammation.
- Pain relief: They may help ease pain. Some research shows that omega-3s help reduce rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms and/or reduce the amount of pain medication needed (2). Further research must solidify these findings.
- Heart health: Some research shows that omega-3s can help reduce arrhythmias (3). They can also improve other indicators of chronic disease (1–2).
We can further break down omega-3s into specific fatty acids: EPA, DHA and ALA.
- Brain health: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can help with memory (4). Both DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are important for brain health throughout all stages of life (5). It’s also essential for baby’s brain development. So, pregnant mothers should get enough DHA.
- Cholesterol and triglyceride improvement: EPA and DHA can improve these heart health biomarkers (2–3).
- Plant-based benefits: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 that is found in plant-based foods. Our body converts ALA into EPA and then into DHA to be used in the body (6). This process is not very efficient, but ALA foods are part of a healthy plant-based diet.
Recommended Omega-3 Intake per Day
Currently, there are no set recommendations for daily omega-3 intake as a whole.
DHA and EPA Recommendations
Even though omega-3s are great, you can have too much of a good thing! Some organizations recommend that you do not consume more than 3-5 grams of DHA and EPA combined per day. They also recommend getting no more than 2 grams per day from supplemental omega-3s (2).
There are specific recommendations for ALA (2).
|Gender, Lifecycle and Age||Daily Adequate Intake for ALA (eat at least these amounts)|
|Men ages 19 and up||1.6 grams|
|Women ages 19 and up||1.1 grams|
As you will see in our list of omega-3 foods, fish is a great source of omega-3s. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended that Americans get 8 ounces of fish per week. Aim for 2 meals with 4-ounce servings of fish each week. Also, make sure not to deep-fry your fish. Opt for healthier methods like baking, poaching or grilling. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it is recommended that you consume 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week (7).
Getting omega-3s from supplements and diet may be contraindicated in people taking blood thinners. Many foods are fortified with omega-3s, and supplements can contain huge amounts of omega-3s. People on blood thinners may get too much omega-3s and can experience digestive upset and bleeding. Ask your doctor about omega-3s and your medications.
How to Get Omega-3s Every Day
In general, replace unhealthy fats with foods that contain healthy fats.
|Healthy Fats (eat more)||Unhealthy Fats (eat less)|
|Plant-based oil (olive, soybean, flaxseed, grapeseed, safflower)||Fried foods, Processed food, Fast food|
|Nuts||Full-fat dairy (cheese, ice cream, whole milk)|
|Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, sardines)||Pizza|
Healthy fats often contain ALA, EPA and/or DHA. However, if you’re trying to lose weight, be sure to control your portion size of all fats (even healthy fats). Healthy fats are good for you, but calorie-rich.
List of Omega-3 Foods
Let’s look at foods to regularly include in your diet. Try to get omega-3s each day!
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, herring and trout. Fatty fish contain DHA and EPA. 3 ounces of farm-raised salmon contain 1.24g DHA and 0.59g EPA (2).
#2: Flaxseed Oil
Vegetarians and vegans may be at risk of EPA and DHA deficiency. When you don’t eat animal-based foods like fatty fish, it can be hard to get all the EPA and DHA you need. However, you can get plant-based ALA! Remember: Some ALA converts into DHA.
#3: Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are an awesome source of omega-3s (specifically ALA)! I recommend these Nutiva Organic chia seeds. You can put a scoop in your cereal, oatmeal, smoothie or baked goods daily. 1 ounce of chia seeds contains 5.06g ALA (2).
I mentioned tuna in #1, but I wanted to specifically highlight Starkist Tuna Pouches. These are so convenient and so yummy. They come in a variety of flavors and don’t have that smelly tuna water! They’re perfect for snacking! Plus, they have DHA and EPA just like other fatty fish. 3 ounces of tuna contain 0.09g DHA and 0.01g EPA (2).
Walnuts are another plant-based way to get a boost of ALA. They’re good for heart and brain health. Add them to oatmeal, salads, stir fry, snacks and dessert! You can also get benefits from other nuts and seeds. 1 ounce of English walnuts contains 2.57g ALA (2).
#6: Multivitamin with Omega-3s
Current research is inconclusive about omega-3 supplements versus getting omega-3s in food. However, if you already take a multivitamin, ask your doctor if you can switch to a multivitamin that contains omega-3s. But remember: If you take blood thinners, too much omega-3s can cause bleeding. A multivitamin with omega-3s may be a good way to ensure you’re getting a small dose of omega-3s daily.