11 Best Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Introduction to omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are part of the membranes that surround every cell in the body, are important to your health. In fact, getting more omega-3 fatty acids into your daily diet can provide a whole host of health benefits.

There are several different types of omega-3 fatty acids. The three that researchers have studied the most are:

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). This omega-3 is found in fish and contains anti-inflammatory properties that promote heart health. It has been shown to lower triglyceride levels in the bloodstream, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Also found in fish, this omega-3 is critical for brain development in infants and promotes brain, eye and heart health.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Often found in plant-based foods, such as flaxseed and chia seeds, ALA converts into EPA and DHA.

Benefits of omega-3 fatty acids

Health benefits of consuming omega-3s include:

— Reducing risk of heart attack and stroke

— Increasing blood flow to the brain

— Lowering cholesterol

— Helping with memory

— Improving mood

— Decreasing inflammation

Omega-3 fatty acids also provide modest relief for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, says registered dietitian Kristen F. Gradney, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who also owns her own practice in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids

As much as possible, it’s important to get omega-3 fatty acids as part of a well-rounded diet versus supplements. A healthy eating regimen that includes omega-3 fatty acids also will include other vitamins and minerals that help our bodies run properly.

For most adults, an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is 1,600 milligrams daily for men and 1,100 milligrams daily for women, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts and others. These are some of the top foods for omega-3s and how to incorporate them into your diet.

1. Fatty fish: The omega-3 powerhouses

Fatty fish are rich in EPA and DHA, as well as protein and vitamins, such as vitamin D. Fatty fish that are an excellent source for omega-3s include:

Salmon (Atlantic). 1,830 milligrams of omega-3s per 3-ounce serving

Herring. 1,710 milligrams per 3-ounce serving

Mackerel. 1,020 milligrams per 3-ounce serving

Rainbow trout. 840 milligrams per 3-ounce serving

Eating a 3.5- to 4-ounce serving of oily fish at least twice weekly is a solid way to boost your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids — and it may be easier to do than you think.

“We don’t always think of fish as a convenience food, but it thaws quickly and can be baked, grilled and filleted,” says Daniela Novotny, a registered dietitian and an instructor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.

Several of these fish come in easy to-go pouches or cans at the store. You can find them packaged together with crackers, making them a quick on-the-go meal, Novotny adds.

2. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are a seed rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Just a tablespoon of flaxseed oil has a whopping 7,000 milligrams of ALAs, according to the National Institutes of Health. One tablespoon of whole flaxseeds has a little more than 2,000 milligrams of ALAs.

You can add small servings of ground flaxseed to:

— Smoothies or smoothie bowls

— Cereal


— Oatmeal

— Granola

— Yogurt

If you’re concerned about flaxseed flavor overpowering your food, rest assured that this humble seed doesn’t really change how your food tastes.

Make sure you consume ground flaxseed, so the omega-3 fatty acids can be absorbed, advises Dr. Jeffrey Landsman, a primary care physician with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Otherwise, your body will consume the seed whole without obtaining the omega-3s, Landsman explains. You can easily find ground flaxseed at the supermarket.

It’s also important to start slow if you’re new to eating flaxseed because of its high fiber content. Drinking more water can help your body better absorb the fiber.

3. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are not only a good source of omega-3s, boasting 5,000 milligrams per one-ounce serving, but they also contain healthy amounts of calcium, magnesium and fiber, says Bethany M. Doerfler, a clinical research dietitian in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. She also works in her division’s Digestive Health Center.

Much like flaxseeds, you can consume chia seeds in a variety of ways:

— Add them to your muffin or bread mixes.

— Add them to stir-fry dishes.

— Ground the seeds into a fine powder, and mix them into breadcrumbs used to coat meat and fish.

4. Walnuts

Walnuts are known for their overall nutritional value, but they are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.

One ounce of English walnuts provides 2,570 milligrams of ALAs. Walnuts are also full of antioxidants, and they’re great if you want a plant-based source for omega-3 fatty acids.

Here are a few ways to add walnuts to your food:

— Have a handful as a snack.

— Add them to yogurt along with fresh berries.

— Put a few cut-up walnuts on top of oatmeal or other cereals.

— Use them in place of meat in stir fry and other dishes.

— Add walnuts or walnut oil to your salads.

5. Cod liver oil

Have you ever heard of cod liver oil? It’s remained popular through the years because of its nutritional value, particularly because it’s high in omega-3s, with 2,438 milligrams per 1-tablespoon serving, as well as vitamins A and D.

You can consume cod liver oil by eating the fresh fish or as a supplement, but check with a health provider before starting any new supplements. That’s because cod liver oil is high in vitamin A, and you could potentially consume too much if you’re already eating other foods high in vitamin A. It’s also possible for cod liver oil to interact with some medications, including antihypertensive drugs for high blood pressure and anticoagulants that slow blood clotting.

You may experience some stomach upset, heartburn or nausea when using cod liver oil.

6. Oysters, sardines and anchovies

If you’re a fan of seafood like oysters, sardines and anchovies, then we have some good news for your health. These are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Here’s how:

Oysters (670 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per 3-ounce serving). Enjoy oysters with lemon juice, hot sauce or horseradish. You can have them raw, steamed, boiled or poached. However, be cautious of raw or undercooked oysters, which sometimes come from contaminated water, Novotny cautions. This is especially important if you have liver disease, are pregnant or have any condition that weakens your immune system.

Sardines (1,190 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per 3-ounce serving). Consider adding them to salad or on crackers.

Anchovies (2,000 milligrams per serving). You can add these tiny, oily fish to a dish with crackers, cheese and olives, or top them on pizza.

7. Caviar

While caviar may remain just a special treat versus an everyday food item because of its high cost, rest assured that you’re getting in your omega-3 fatty acids when you choose to indulge. That’s because it provides 1,046 milligrams of omega-3s per tablespoon. However, caviar is also high in sodium, so it’s important not to overindulge on a regular basis.

For your special occasions, enjoy caviar with crackers, toasted bread or similar food items.

8. Soybeans

If you’re looking for more plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids, then consider adding soybeans to your diet. A 100-gram serving of dry roasted soybeans contains 1,440 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids.

Here are a few soybean food sources to work into your daily diet:

Edamame. These can be bought frozen and added to salads or prepared and enjoyed on their own steamed or dry roasted.

Soymilk. Add this non-dairy milk alternative to smoothies.

Tofu. This plant-based meat alternative made from soybeans can be roasted, steamed or pan-fried.

9. Other oils

These types of oil can easily add omega-3s to your eating regimen:

Olive oil

— Canola oil

— Soybean oil

You just need a small amount when you’re cooking to reap the health and omega-3 benefits from these cooking oils.

10. Omega-3-fortified eggs and other fortified foods

Some hens are fed flaxseed, leading them to produce eggs that have omega-3 fatty acids (otherwise, eggs are not usually a source of omega-3s for your diet). Look out for egg cartons labeled “enriched with omega-3s” or “contains omega-3s” to make sure you’re buying the right kind.

“Eggs are a great source of protein, and they have healthy fats,” Novotny says.

Eggs are also a versatile food. Make a hard-boiled egg as a snack or to go with a meal, prepare an omelet or combine eggs with the vegetables you have on hand for a frittata.

You may also find other foods fortified with omega-3s, meaning that the fatty acids have been added to them in their processing. These may include yogurts, juices, milks and even infant formulas. The exact content of omega-3 in fortified foods will vary.

11. Supplements

Many registered dietitians recommend that we use food to get important nutrients into our body. However, if that’s hard to do, then they may recommend the use of an omega-3 supplement.

There are a variety of omega-3 supplement types available, including:

— Fish oil

— Flaxseed oil

— Krill oil

— Algal (algae) oil

Fish oil tends to be higher in EPA and DHA. However, vegetarians may opt for flaxseed oil or algae oil to avoid consuming a fish product, Landsman says. In fact, certain fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids because of the algae they eat, he explains.

Some labels may say the supplement contains “fish oil,” but look for a specific label to say how much combined EPA and DHA it’s providing, Novotny advises.

FAQs about omega-3 fatty acids

How much omega-3s do I need daily, and can I get it all from food?

The daily recommendation for omega-3 fatty acids is 1,600 milligrams for adult men and 1,100 milligrams for adult women. The recommended intake for children and pregnant and lactating females will vary.

Can I cook omega-3-rich foods without losing their nutritional value?

You can still cook foods rich in omega-3s. Try to avoid using high temperatures, as you may use when frying or broiling. Baking and poaching can help maintain the omega-3 content of foods.

Are there risks associated with consuming too much omega-3s?

It’s possible to have digestive upset and more bleeding if you’re consuming a regularly high dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Talk with your health care provider about the right amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

Can children and pregnant women benefit from omega-3-rich foods?

Yes, both children and pregnant women can reap health benefits from eating omega-3-rich foods. However, check with a health care provider first to confirm which food sources are best.

Are there any interactions between omega-3 supplements and medications?

It’s possible that taking omega-3 supplements, particularly fish oil supplements, can make certain medications and supplements less effective. This includes anticoagulant drugs, certain blood pressure drugs and vitamin E supplements. It’s always a good idea to speak with a health care provider before starting a new supplement.

Incorporating omega-3-rich foods into your diet

Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids can improve your brain function, enhance heart health and fight inflammation. Incorporate these foods into your daily diet to make sure you’re reaping the benefits. Fortunately, there’s a wide choice of foods high in omega-3s, including:

— Fatty fish

— Flaxseeds

— Chia seeds

— Walnuts

— Cod liver oil

— Oysters, sardines and anchovies

— Caviar

— Soybeans

— Oils

— Omega-3-fortified eggs and other foods

— Supplements

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11 Best Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 05/17/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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