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Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more
The words “fatty acids” don’t sound too appetizing when strung together, but they’re the secret sauce behind omega-3 rich foods and their crazy awesome health benefits.
So, what are they?
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that aren’t made by the human body, meaning we have to chow down on them in order to reap their benefits.
They’re touted for their abilities to:
- boost brain function
- reduce inflammation
- promote heart health
Actually, good things come in 3s…
The three types of omega-3 fatty acids that are important for human nutrition are:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
(And you don’t need to pronounce them correctly to get them into your diet.)
Plant sources are the highest in ALA fatty acids, while fish, algae, and seaweed contain more EPA and DHA content.
Let’s go grocery shopping shall we?
|What to eat||Total omega-3 content per serving size||EPA||DHA||ALA|
2991 mg per serving (one fillet)
4961 mg per serving (0.5 of a fillet)
865 mg per serving (1 fillet)
540 mg per serving (100 grams)
2205 mg per serving (1 cup, drained)
370 mg per serving (85 grams)
844 mg per serving (1 fillet)
1086 mg per serving (1 tbsp)
4915 mg per serving (1 oz)
10623 mg per cup
280 mg per 0.5 cup
105 mg per 0.5 cup
67 mg per 0.5 cup
4-134 mg per 1-oz
4-134 mg per 1-oz
|3000-4000 mg per 1–2 tbsp||–||–|
917 mg per tbsp
Up your omega intake with some fatty, oily fish. Mmm. These foods contain the highest amounts of DHA and EPA — the VIPs of omega-3 fatty acids. You’ll find these in seafood and in some grass-fed animal products.
We’re guessing this isn’t your usual go-to snack. But maybe it should be? A 3.5-ounce serving of mackerel is loaded with 200 percent of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin B12 and 100 percent for selenium.
Fun fact: Selenium is an essential mineral that has antioxidant properties.
All about that sea bass
Sea bass is another A+ source of omega-3. It’s also jam packed with protein and selenium. Like a lot of seafood, sea bass may contain mercury, so keep an eye on your intake — especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Not just your favorite cocktail appetizer anymore, shrimp’s the new protein shake. This lil’ sea critter contains many important vitamins and minerals that are good for health, such as iron, vitamin B12, iodine, and selenium.
Snackin’ on sardines
Although sardines don’t seem like much, they should be making waves for their nutritional profile. Sardines are a small, oily fish that are typically packaged in tins.
They’re most nutritious when eaten whole. We recommend making like the French and tossing a few on top of a Niçoise salad (oh là là). In addition to omega-3s, these cuties contain a lot of vitamin B12, selenium, and vitamin D.
The world is your oyster
Aw shucks! Perhaps the most bougie of appetizers, oysters are an omega-3 delicacy. They pack a punch in the nutrition department with incredible amounts of zinc and B12. Fun fact: zinc boosts your immune system, metabolism, and ability to heal.
Trout’s got clout
Earning a reputation as a more sustainable seafood option, rainbow trout contain high amounts of iron, vitamin D, and B vitamins. They also taste excellent when prepared with butter, rosemary, and lemon.
Crazy for caviar
When you’re feeling fancy, bust out this upper-crust snack. Caviar is made from fish eggs (aka roe) and is a delicacy that’s usually served as a garnish or appetizer.
Caviar isn’t just impressive as a luxury import, it’s also an omega-3 rich food and a great source of choline. WTH is that you ask? It’s an essential nutrient involved in everything from fat transport, DNA synthesis, and healthy function of the nervous system.
Most vegetarian and vegan sources of omega-3 contain more ALA than DHA and EPA. But algae and seaweed earn themselves a spot on a vegetarian’s omega-3 wish list due to the fact that they contain both DHA and EPA.
Chomp on some chia
Ch-ch-ch-chia seeds won our hearts in the ’80s thanks to those campy Chia Pet commercials. Put those seeds to better use by sprinkling them on top of your yogurt or smoothie.
The seeds contain essential amino acids, protein, and other nutrients like manganese and magnesium.
I’ve hit a walnut!
They don’t just look like mini brains — they feed the brain as well! This popular nut is rich in fiber, manganese, antioxidants, and more. Leave the skin on the nut if you can, since that’s where most of the phenol antioxidants are.
Word to your edamame
You may recognize edamame from your local pub’s appetizer list. Edamame are immature soybeans that first gained popularity in Japan. Edamame is also an excellent source of plant based protein.
A punch to the kidney beans
Kidney beans are a staple food for chilis and hearty soups. They’re high in fiber, folate, and other vitamins and minerals.
This squishy block of goodness is just condensed soy milk from soybeans (‘sup edamame). It’s a great source of protein and fiber, which makes it a rad addition to vegetarian diets. Try grilling it in sriracha and tossing it in a salad.
Long time no seaweed
Seaweed actually contains DHA and EPA, which makes it a must have omega-3 source for veggie-sauruses and vegans. You’ll find it in sushi or packaged into dried sheets for snacking. What’s more, seaweed contains antioxidants and is a rich source of protein.
Algae — a snack that will grow on you
Algae is another omega-3 source that contains both DHA and EPA. Chorella and spirulina are varieties known for their superfood properties. (They’re also definitely having a moment on Instagram.)
They can be purchased as supplements to add to your morning smoothie or acai bowl.
Hemp seeds come from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. They contain protein, iron, and zinc, and they’re an excellent source of ALA omega-3s. Hemp seeds can be easily added to food to increase the nutritional value, and are tasty to boot.
Super soybean oil
Soybean oil is usually used for cooking, but it also makes a mean salad dressing. Soybean oil is a solid source of ALA, and also contains riboflavin, magnesium, potassium, folate, and vitamin K.
Fun fact! Riboflavin is a B vitamin that helps maintain your body’s energy supply.
If you aren’t the type to load your plate with fish or seafood, then you may want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
Omega-3 deficiency has been linked to inflammation, depression, and arthritis. Western countries are not on the list of those that eat the most fish. So there’s a good chance your nutrition could use a jolt of well rounded omega-3s.
Supplements are an especially good idea for plant based peeps who may be at risk of not getting enough DHA and EPA.
Supplements can vary widely by brand when it comes to dosage and quality. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements.
Some supplements to chat about with your doc:
Fish oil: These are the most common omega-3 supplements and provide the highest available dose of both DHA and EPA.
Krill oil: Another seafood-based oil supplement that’s rich in DHA and EPA. Krill oil and fish oil are both considered equal omega-3 supplements.
Algae oil: These are popular supplement options for vegetarians and vegans. Their omega-3 content is a bit lower than fish oils, so you may need to take more to reach the daily recommended amounts.
For best results, look for an algal oil that contains both DHA and EPA.
ALA supplements: These are supplements from plant based sources like flaxseed, chia seed, and hemp seed. While they lack the DHA and EPA benefits, they do contain omega-6 fatty acids, which are good for your heart.
Researching to make sure the quality of the supplements are up to par is always a best practice. Some fish oil could contain contaminants and some oil-based supplements can be toxic if consumed excessively.
Omega-3 fatty acids might sound kinda fishy (literally), but they’re actually an important part of a healthy diet. #YOLO
- Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that aren’t made by the human body.
- Adults should consume 250 to 500 milligrams of omega-3s per day.
- There are three types of omega-3s that are essential for human nutrition: ALA, EPA, and DHA.
- Plant based sources contain ALA, while animal sources contain more DHA and EPA.
- Supplements are available to help boost your intake of Omega-3s.