Where to Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Get on the Good Fat!
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that we need, but our bodies can’t produce on their own. These fats help regulate a number of bodily functions, ranging from blood clotting to triglyceride levels, and levels of inflammation throughout the body (WHF, 2012).
They may help prevent catastrophic illnesses such as heart disease and stroke and benefit people with inflammatory conditions, including psoriasis and arthritis (WHF, 2012). Fortunately, many different types of foods contain omega-3s, so it’s easy to incorporate the nutrient into your daily diet.
Flaxseeds are a plant-based food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and an antioxidant called lignans. You can buy them whole or ground at your local supermarket or health food store. The Mayo Clinic recommends ground seeds rather than whole because they are easier to digest (Mayo, 2012).
Tip: Sprinkle flaxseeds on your salad, breakfast cereal, or yogurt to get your fill of omega-3s. Use flaxseed oil for cooking, baking, or as a base for homemade salad dressing.
A member of the tree nut family, walnuts pack a nutritious punch. A quarter-cup serving of walnuts provides you with nearly 95 percent of your daily omega-3 needs, as well as hefty helpings of manganese and copper. However, walnuts are high in calories, so snack judiciously to avoid adding increasing your calorie count too much.
Tip: Add chopped walnuts to baked goods, fruit or green salads, and yogurt. Or, grab a handful and eat them plain.
Satisfy your daily requirement for omega-3 fatty acids with a variety of leafy greens. Choose romaine lettuce or raw spinach for salads and add ground flaxseed and walnuts for a triple-omega-3 punch. Prepare nutritious side dishes such as collard or turnip greens.
Tip: While not in the “leafy” category, Brussels sprouts and green beans are other green veggies that are rich in omega-3s.
Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring, and trout are called “fatty fish” because of their high fat content, and are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating two or more servings of fish weekly to maintain or increase heart health (AHA, 2010).
Tip: Women and children might want to choose fish that are low in mercury, such as tuna.
If you prefer shellfish to fish and are concerned about your omega-3 consumption, choose shrimp and scallops as your main dish. A 4-ounce serving of each of these types of shellfish provides between 15 and 17 percent of the recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods (WHF, 2012).
Tip: Broil or grill shrimp and scallops to minimize the amount of saturated fats in your meal.
Fruit-lovers can get in on the omega-3 action too. Raspberries and strawberries are low-calorie, high-nutritient options for reaching your omega-3 goals. One cup of berries delivers between 4 and 6 percent of the RDI for omega-3 fatty acids.
Tip: Raspberries and strawberries are also high in fiber and antioxidant vitamins to aid digestion and protect you from oxidative stress.
Vegetarians and vegans who include soy products on their weekly shopping list are already well on their way to fulfilling their omega-3 recommendations. Tofu, a product made with soybean curd, provides 15 percent of your daily omega-3 needs per 4-ounce serving. Miso, a fermented form of soy combined with grains, also contains omega-3.
Tip: The winner in the soy category is the soybean itself. One cup of cooked soybeans contains a whopping 42 percent of your RDI of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil is an omega-3-containing dietary supplement available in capsule form. The AHA recommends that most people get their omega-3s through food rather than supplements, but there are exceptions to every case. For example, people with high cholesterol and other medical conditions may be advised to take fish oil supplements.
Tip: Fish oil can cause unpleasant side effects in some people, including heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea. Safety concerns regarding mercury poisoning, blood clotting problems, or reduced immunity are rare, but are possible in those taking very large amounts of the supplement.
Something for Everyone
Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to everyone, and are found in a range of foods. You don’t have to eat them all—but you can surely find something you like on this list. Simply adding a handful of walnuts to the foods you usually eat or adding fish to your dinner menu can go a long way. Consult your doctor or nutritionist if you have questions about how to get more omega-3 into your daily diet.