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Dial Up Your Omega-3s With These Essential Nutrients

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Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient that your body needs, but that you have to get from the things you eat. Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is considered healthy and are naturally found in a variety of foods.

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). ALA is found in plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies. DHA and EPA are often called the marine omega-3s since they are found mainly in marine plants and animals like fish and seaweed.

“All types of omega-3 fatty acids help your body by supporting cell function and reducing inflammation,” said Emily Isaac, a dietitian with Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital. “Eating foods that are rich in omega-3s has also been associated with improved heart health and brain function.” (source)

Good Sources of Omega-3s

The USDA recommended an average of 250 mg a day of combined DHA and EPA, the marine omega-3s. Eating two 4-oz. servings of fish a week would provide your DHA and EPA needs, however some fish like salmon are an especially rich source of these fats. Just one 4 oz. serving of salmon would provide your DHA and EPA needs for the week.

 For plant-based, or ALA, omega-3s, the National Institutes of Health recommended a daily dose of 1,100 mg for women and 1,600 mg for men. That’s about ½ teaspoon of flaxseed oil or seven walnut halves a day.

Other good sources of omega-3s are listed below (milligrams per serving):

   ALA   DHA  EPA 
Flaxseed Oil, 1 Tbsp.  7,260    
Chia Seeds, 1 oz. 5,060    
English Walnuts, 1 oz. 2,570

Flaxseed, 1 Tbsp. 2,350    
Salmon, 4 oz.   1,627 467
Herring, 4 oz.   1,253 1,027
Canola Oil, 1 Tbsp. 1,280    
Canned Sardines, 4 oz.    987 600
Mackerel, 4 oz.   787 573
Soybean Oil, 1 Tbsp. 920    
Trout, 4 oz.   587 533

Other foods such as oysters, shrimp, lobster, tuna, legumes, omega-3 fortified eggs, avocado, pecans, cashews, and cooked vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach all contain moderate amounts of omega-3s that can add up to be good sources if you eat them consistently in your diet.

What About Fish Oil Supplements?

Ideally people should get their nutrients from food, not supplements.

“Eating a variety of whole foods gives your body health benefits beyond what a supplement can provide, and there is no benefit to getting more omega-3 than you need,” said Isaac.

If you are already eating a varied diet that includes seafood weekly, the American Heart Association does not recommend using a supplement to get your omega-3s if you are not at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

However, if you don’t eat seafood regularly you may need to consider a supplement to provide DHA and EPA, according to Isaac (source). The National Institutes of Health reported that the body can convert a small amount of plant-based omega-3s into DHA and EPA, but this might not be enough for optimal health. Fish oil supplements are easy to find, or look for algae oil which is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Both provide DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. Always buy quality supplements that have the USP, NSF or CL/ConsumerLab.com “approved” label.

How to Add Omega-3-Rich Foods

To add more omega-3s to your diet, try these simple tips:

  • Use canola oil instead of vegetable oil for cooking.
  • Add walnuts and other nuts to your snack rotation.
  • Sprinkle your morning oats with a few chia seeds or ground flaxseed.
  • Use fish instead of red meat or poultry twice a week.
  • Fill half of your plate with vegetables at mealtimes, especially dark leafy greens.
  • Add flaxseed oil to smoothies or in homemade salad dressing. 

“Foods with omega-3s in them taste good and have a number of health benefits, so don’t shy away from adding these foods to your plate,” said Isaac.

Give your shopping cart a Mediterranean make-over and add nutrient-rich food to every meal.