Omega-3 Fatty Acids provide big benefits for your health. Learn what they are, how much you need, what foods have the highest sources and easy ways to incorporate them into your meal plan.

Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids

You’ve heard of omega-3’s, but all the information has you baffled. Well, you’re not alone! There’s a great deal of research being done on the powerful benefits of these super fats and I’m here to share them with you. Here’s a rundown on omega-3 fatty acids, and how to increase your intake from foods.

The Basics

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids because they are not made in our body. That means we have to get them from our diet.  There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA are mainly found in specific fish, while plant-based sources contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA.) ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is partially converted into DHA and EPA in the body. The problem with relying on ALA as your only source of omega-3s is that it’s hard to know how much you are actually getting.

How Much Omega-3’s Fatty Acids Do You Need?

For healthy adults, with no history of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week.  Fatty fish, like salmon, sea bass, anchovies, halibut, and albacore tuna, have the highest amounts of omega-3s. Good sources of ALA are plant-derived foods, like tofu, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil. The World Health Organization recommends getting between 0.3-0.5 grams of EPA + DHA, and 0.8-1.1 grams of ALA, each day.

Omega-3 vs Omega-6

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both essential fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids, however, have been shown to be more inflammatory in the body.  Reports suggest that typical Western diets tend to be up to 10 times  higher in omega-6 fatty acids than they are in omega-3’s.  That’s why there tends to be so much more focus on them.

The large amount of omega-6 found in typical western diets comes from the abundant use of vegetable oils containing linoleic acid (not to be confused with linolenic –  there is a big difference!)  Examples of these oils are corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, sesame, and wheat germ oil.

Metabolites of omega-6 may compete with omega-3’s, to be converted to active metabolites in the body. Some experts believe that the high ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s contributes to chronic disease. However, other health experts disagree.  Either way, if you’e not getting enough, it’s beneficial to increase your overall intake of omega-3’s.

Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3’s are believed to play an important role in reducing inflammation over the entire body – from the blood vessels to the joints and elsewhere. In 2004, the FDA stated that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  A number of studies have shown that fish oil supplements reduce triglyceride levels.  Also, omega-3’s seem to lower the overall risk of death from heart disease. Eating the recommended amounts of fish 1-2 times a week appears to significantly lower the risk of stroke. A number of studies have found that fish oil supplements significantly reduced stiffness and joint pain associated with arthritis.

Research shows that societies that eat higher levels of omega-3s have lower levels of depression. And, preliminary research suggests that omega-3s may help protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Just remember, try to get your omega-3’s from whole foods FIRST rather than supplements. If you don’t like fish, or don’t think you can eat enough of these foods, then it’s time to consider supplementing. Just be sure to buy a hig-quality one. My post on shopping for Omega-3 supplements can share what to look for. And, while foods high in omega-3’s have remarkable health benefits, sources such as oils and nuts can be high in calories, so eat them in moderation.

Highest Food Sources of Omega-3

Food Serving Amount (grams)
Flaxseed oil 1 Tbsp 8.2
Walnuts ¼ cup 2.6
Flaxseed 1 Tbsp 2.2
Trout, lake, cooked 3.5 oz 2.0
Salmon, farmed, cooked 3.5 oz 1.8
Anchovies, canned 3.5 oz 1.7
Tuna, bluefin, cooked 3.5 oz 1.6
Walnut oil 1 Tbsp 1.6
Sardines, canned 3.5 oz 1.5
Mackerel, Atlantic, cooked 3.5 oz 1.3
Canola/rapeseed oil 1 Tbsp 1.0
Swordfish, cooked 3.5 oz 0.7

Are you ready to get cooking? These simple salmon burgers are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and filled with flavor. Try them plain or jazzed up with spicy sauce and zesty slaw.

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