Omega-3 fatty acids are a key piece to a well-balanced diet. They are a critical component to optimal health and wellness that affects the entire body.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosatetraenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (1). EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish, seafood and other marine foods. ALA is mainly found in certain plant foods (2).
Omega-3 fatty acids benefit heart health, improve brain development during pregnancy and infancy, and reduce inflammation (3), (4), (5). Importantly, the scientific evidence does not suggest that omega-3 supplements reduce risk of heart disease, but including foods high in omega-3 in your diet are beneficial for heart health (6).
Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential, meaning your body can’t produce them, so it is important to get them in your diet (1). Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids are extremely common (7). Most Americans consume more than adequate intake of omega-6 fatty acids. That’s because they primarily are in vegetable oils and corn oils, which are found in many food products (8).
There is some evidence to suggest that having more of an equal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in your diet is important to preventing some chronic diseases, like heart disease and some cancers (9). Because most people consume more than adequate amounts of omega-6, most research suggests that people can benefit from consuming equal amounts of the less commonly consumed omega-3 in their diets (10).
Summary: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning your body can’t produce them, so it is important to get them in your diet. The omega-3’s fatty acids found in foods are beneficial for heart health.
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Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids
Find out if you are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by checking out the food list below.
1. Fatty Fish and Seafood
All types of fatty fish contain the most omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of both EPA and DHA.
The fatty fish and seafood with the highest content include salmon, sardines, anchovies, oysters, shrimp, mackerel, herring, halibut, tuna, and trout (1), (11). Other fish and shellfish like lobster and cod also contain some omega-3 but in lower amounts.
These fish are also high in protein and essential vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, and selenium (12).
Summary: Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, oysters, shrimp, and mackerel are good sources of EPA and DHA, two types of omega-3’s. They are also high in protein and essential vitamins and minerals.
2. Seaweed and Algae
Are you vegan or vegetarian? Essential omega-3s are readily available in seaweed and algae (13). There is promising research about the health benefits algae oil can bring in the form of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, but more research on the benefits of these forms is needed (14).
The algaes, spirulina and chlorella, are both common forms of algae. These often come in powders or liquid, There is some preliminary research that shows chlorella may also help maintain stable blood sugar levels (15). Seaweed is also rich in EPA and DHA and also contain many beneficial nutrients, including protein, fiber, iodine and vitamin B12 (16).
Algae is an easy food to add to your daily diet. The easiest way to consume these is through a smoothie. Both tastes are very mild, especially when mixed with other smoothie ingredients. Seaweed snacks, sushi, or miso soup are common foods with seaweed, or you can make a seaweed salad.
Summary: Seaweed and algae, such as chlorella and spirulina, are good sources of the omega-3’s DHA and EPA for vegans and vegetarians. Seaweed is also rich in other beneficial nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamin B12, and iodine.
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are extremely high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the plant form, alpha-linoleic acid, or ALA.
There is some evidence that flaxseed has beneficial effects on many different health conditions, especially risk factors associated with heart disease (17). Flaxseed may also help to reduce lipoprotein A levels, which is a risk factor that can lead to heart attacks and heart disease (18). It may also help to lower blood pressure and inflammation although more research is needed (19), (20).
Flaxseed or flaxseed oil is easy to add to smoothies, oatmeal, cereal, granola, and more. See if this potent nutritional seed is good to add to your diet.
Summary: Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids as alpha-linoleic acid, or ALA. Flaxseed may also be beneficial in promoting heart health, reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
4. Walnuts and Brazil Nuts
Both walnuts and brazil nuts are full of nutrients, especially omega-3s. Walnuts have 3.346 g of ALA per cup, the highest amount of plant-based omega-3s (21).
Brazil nuts also contain a high amount of omega 3s, and many other nutrients (1). Just one brazil nut contains the daily requirement of selenium you need in a day (22). Selenium is a critical mineral for optimal thyroid function (23).
Add in some walnuts or brazil nuts to your next meal or as a snack.
Summary: Walnuts and brazil nuts are two nuts that are particularly high in omega-3’s in the form of ALA. Brazil nuts are also an excellent source of selenium.
There are many beans high in the plant form of omega-3 fatty acids. From soy beans and kidney beans, and navy beans, there is a plethora of options to choose from.
Edamame is a common form of soybeans. A typical appetizer in Asian cultures, edamame is a type of soybean that has many health benefits like high protein, fiber, and antioxidants (24). Edamame contains 0.28 g of ALA omega-3s (1).
Navy beans contain 0.32 g of ALA (1). Many types of beans are also famous for their high protein and fiber content (25). Beans are a splendid choice if you are trying to minimize your consumption of meat. They have essential amino acids for protein synthesis and turnover (26).
One reason people do not consume beans is that they can make you gassy. One way to avoid this is to make sure you soak your beans well before cooking them. This helps to leech out particular carbohydrates in beans that lead to gas production (27). Try a unique form of beans each week.
Summary: Some beans, particularly soybeans, navy beans and kidney beans are good sources of ALA. Beans are also a good source of plant-based protein and fiber. Try soaking beans before cooking to reduce the amount of gas-producing compounds in the beans.
6. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are another type of seed that gives a general boost of omega-3 fatty acids. Just one ounce contains 6,000 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids (28).
They have a plain but nutty flavor, and they come in bulk-size bags or individual packets for easy consumption. Hemp seeds are also an easy addition to many meals. They are great to add to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, or even as a topping on a dessert. Try it out on chocolate or vanilla ice cream for a nutty and nutritious boost.
Summary: Hempseeds are another seed that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA.
7. Olive Oil
Olive oil contains many essential fatty acids, including omega-3s. It also contains vitamin E and other antioxidants (29).
Sprinkle olive oil on your favorite salads, hot meals, and even eggs. Add it to slices of fresh tomatoes with salt and pepper. Contrary to popular belief, it is okay to cook with olive oil. Normaal cooking temperatures is not typically hot enough to damage or oxidize olive oil (30).
Summary: Olive oil is another great source of omega-3’s. It also is rich in vitamin E and other beneficial anti-oxidants.
Omega-3 fatty acids in the forms EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish, but vegetarians can find other sources in plant foods through the plant form, ALA, like the ones listed above. Nuts, seeds, and oils rank the highest in ALA. You can also include seaweed and algae to get in more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
Humans need more omega-3s in their diet to reduce inflammation from genetic factors, chronic stress, environmental contributors, and unhealthy lifestyle habits.
If you have a family history of heart disease or other inflammatory diseases, it is especially important to make sure you get enough omega-3s in your diet. They will help to reduce inflammation, to protect you from many preventable chronic diseases. Talk with your health care professional if you have any questions about your risk for inflammatory diseases.
Summary: Omega-3 fats are essential fats to include in the diet. They are found mainly in fish and seafood, but plant sources include nuts, seeds, beans and oils.