6 great sources of Omega-3s


Not all fats are created equal. Americans do get plenty of fat in their diets, yet most remain deficient in the important omega 3 essential fatty acids. So, here is your tutorial on why these special fatty acids are important, what foods provide them, and what supplements to choose if you need more of them.


What are Omega 3 fatty Acids?

Omega 3 fatty acids or Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids that your body needs to remain healthy. They are considered essential because your body can’t make them and therefore you have to get them from your diet. When you don’t get enough of these in your diet, your body uses other fats that don’t provide the same health benefits. The specific omega 3 fatty acids most American’s need more of are called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), primarily found in fatty fish.


Why are omega 3 fatty acids so important for health?

Omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in brain growth and development, and eye development, so they are especially important for pregnant moms and children. Yet, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH.gov) adults also need plenty of DHA and EPA, which may lower the risk of coronary heart disease, improve healthy cholesterol levels, benefit people who have hardening of the arteries or irregular heart beats and help keep high blood pressure in check. Prescription strength omega-3s are sometimes given to help lower triglyceride levels in people with elevated levels of this type of blood fat, which seems to increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Studies on omega 3’s have even shown promising results for mental health in the role of depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


What are the 6 best omega 3 foods?

The 6 best foods high in omega 3’s, as well as the best source of DHA and EPA, are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines and lake trout. White fish such as cod and haddock do not contain significant amounts of omega 3 fatty acids to meet your needs.


Another type of Omega-3 fat, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in flaxseed oil, canola oil, chia seeds and walnuts. Although these provide a source of omega 3 fats in vegetarian diets, they may not provide enough DHA and EPA. Your body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA, however the process isn’t very efficient, so The American Heart Association still recommends eating fatty fish twice a week, in addition to these healthy foods in order to meet your needs. For vegetarians, an algae-derived omega 3 supplement containing sufficient amounts of DHA and EPA may be needed.


Isn’t fish high in mercury?

The health risks of not eating enough fatty fish, or not getting enough DHA or EPA, is higher than the risk of getting too much mercury from eating fish. Mercury can accumulate in large, older fish so its recommended to avoid eating shark, tilefish, king mackerel and swordfish. Instead, concentrate on smaller wild-caught fish purchased from reputable companies. Avoid relying on farm-raised fish, which doesn’t have as high of concentration of healthy omega-3 fats because of the food they are fed.


Can’t I just take a fish oil capsule to get Omega 3 fatty acids?

Well, yes and no. Eating fatty fish is the best source of omega 3 fatty acids. Fish is rich in protein and also provides iron, zinc and magnesium. For people who simply won’t or can’t eat fish, a fish oil supplement, or algea-derived vegetarian supplement, can help supply these important fatty acids. But, you have to be a wise shopper so you aren’t throwing your money away and your actually getting EPA and DHA. Read the labels and look for sufficient amounts of DHA and EPA. The American Heart Associations recommends up to1000 mg. or 1 gram of DHA and EPA daily, especially for those with documented coronary heart disease. Those with high triglyceride levels may need as much as 2-4 grams daily, but should only do so under the care of a physician. These oils can cause excessive bleeding, including nosebleeds, and should be stopped prior to any surgeries.


For more information on the health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, visit NIH.gov or heart.org. To find a good omega 3 supplement, talk to your physician, registered dietitian or pharmacist. They can help direct you to a good product.

Jennifer M. Wood, MS, RD

Jennifer M Wood, MS, RDN is registered dietitian nutritionist and successful food and nutrition consultant in Southeastern Minnesota. As the founder of a nation-wide gourmet food company, Wood wrote Jenny’s Country Kitchen…recipes for making homemade a little easier! (2003), which is a timeless collection of make-ahead, freeze-ahead and pantry-stocking recipes and time saving tips to help busy families put nutritious food on table. Wood graduated with a pre-med bachelors degree in nutritional science in 2001, completed her dietetic internship in 2007 and went on to complete a master’s degree in food and nutrition in 2011.

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