" " Omega-3 is easily damaged by oxygen, light and heat, which means that eating the foods that contain them raw is best -- though baking or broiling will cause less nutrient loss than frying or boiling. iStockphoto/ Thinkstock
Omega-3 is a high-profile nutritional trend, ranking alongside with calcium and fiber in consumers' concerns [source: Watson]. And unlike some food fads that are over in a flash, the need for omega-3 may be as genuine as advertised.
Omega-3 refers to omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats, which, despite their misunderstood reputation, are vital nutrients. Omega-3 is used to regulate blood clotting, build cell membranes and support cell health. It's polyunsaturated, which is the relatively heart-healthy kind of fats that help reduce blood triglycerides (fats) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol.
Omega-3 also curbs inflammation. While inflammation is a normal part of the body's immune response, research indicates that it also underlies a host of serious illnesses, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers and autoimmune diseases.
Omega-3 is called an essential fatty acid: It's essential to health, and because the human body doesn't produce it, it's essential in the diet. Unfortunately, the typical American diet includes relatively few foods that are rich in omega-3.
Complicating matters is another essential fatty acid, omega-6. Omega-6 is another polyunsaturated fatty acid, and it complements the functions of omega-3 in foods. In a contrasting role, however, omega-6 promotes inflammation. What's more, omega-6 may compete with omega-3 for metabolization in the body. The modern Western diet tends to be top-heavy with omega-6 acids, largely due to the reliance on refined vegetable oils both in homes and in the food industry.
In this article, we'll fill your plate with 10 foods that can help even the score between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. We'll highlight proteins, dairy products, veggies and snacks, and fill your knowledge stores with some basic science to help you identify other good choices.
Omega-3 fatty acids, known as "healthy fats," have several benefits for your health, including lowering your risk for heart disease and reducing anxiety. The best part? They're found in many food sources, though you can also choose from over-the-counter omega-3 supplements.
But like any trendy health food, omega-3 fatty acids are surrounded by hype. Which benefits are backed by science, and are there any downsides to omega-3s or their supplements? We help you sort it out below.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, are an essential part of the human diet. Unlike other fats that the body is capable of synthesizing (called non-essential fatty acids), omega-3s can't be made from scratch. They're vital for various bodily processes, such as making hormones for blood clotting, artery contraction and relaxation, and genetic functions. In other words, we need omega-3s, and we can only get them from food or supplements.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
Eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA
Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA
Adding omega-3s to your diet
Different types of foods provide different omega-3 fatty acids. The first two types, EPA and DHA, are abundant in fish, which is why they're commonly called "marine omega-3s." The third type, ALA, is common in a variety of food sources, including certain oils, nuts, leafy vegetables and some meats.
The best sources of omega-3s include:
Meat from grass-fed animals
Fish, by far, is the best source of omega-3s. If you're vegan or otherwise don't eat seafood, you may need to work especially hard to get enough of these important fats in your diet. In that case, omega-3 supplements may be helpful, especially for EPA and DHA. Although your body naturally converts a small amount of ALA to DHA and EPA, it may be a good idea to make sure you're consuming fish or supplements that include these.
Science-backed benefits of omega-3s
Scientists have noted a variety of benefits that may be associated with omega-3 fatty acids. Some of these have more evidence than others, so we'll look at the most notable benefits with some of the most promising scientific support.
Lower your risk of heart disease
A wide array of studies has shown a connection between heart health and omega-3 fatty acids. These fats appear to have a positive impact on various aspects of cardiovascular health. Most notably, though, omega-3s have been correlated with more stable heart rhythm, lower blood pressure and heart rate, better blood vessel function, and lower levels of inflammation.
Replacing saturated fats, such as red meat, butter and whole fat dairy, with unsaturated fats such as omega-3s may lower risk of developing heart disease.
Fight anxiety and depression
Although more research is needed as to the exact correlation between mental health and omega-3 intake, there appears to be strong evidence that these fats can help to reduce depression and anxiety for many people. EPA, in particular, has shown promising results as a treatment for mild-to-moderate depression.
Enhance eye health
Omega-3s -- EPA and DHA in particular -- play a major part in building the cellular makeup of our eyes. Not only do they help during our early stages of development, but research suggests a steady, adequate intake of these fats can help prevent vision problems, such as macular degeneration later in life.
Promote prenatal and infant brain development
Scientists are actively studying the general connection between omega-3s and brain health, particularly in the womb and during our early life. Some studies have shown that children of mothers who take omega-3 supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding may have better mental processing capabilities than those who don't. Additionally, studies have shown that mothers who take DHA supplements can improve breast milk nutrition for infants, leading to better cognitive function and eyesight later in life.
Slow cognitive decline
Because of the connection between omega-3s and general brain health, it's perhaps no surprise that some research supports that these fats may slow cognitive decline as we age. This may be particularly promising for helping to slow the effects of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, though more research is still needed in this area.
Scientists are still studying these and many other benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, including their effect on ADHD, metabolic syndrome and certain autoimmune diseases.
Drawbacks to omega-3 supplements
Generally, doctors recommend that you get most or all of your omega-3 fatty acids from food sources. Broiled or baked fish (not fried) is the best thing to add to your diet, along with some of the other foods mentioned above.
Omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil or cod liver oil, offer many of the same benefits as getting these fats through food sources, though. These supplements are generally considered safe when taken in moderation. However, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider.
Risk of bleeding
There's some indication that omega-3 supplements may enhance the effects of anti-blood clotting medications, herbs and supplements. When taken together, it may increase your risk of bleeding or reduce your ability to stop bleeding.
Other potential drug interactions
More research is needed as to how fish oil supplements interact with other drugs and dietary supplements. In particular, there may be adverse interactions between omega-3 supplements and drugs taken for blood pressure, birth control and weight loss.
General side effects
Some users of omega-3 supplements have noted general discomfort associated with them. This may include heartburn, nausea and diarrhea.
Other side effects of omega-3 supplements that some have noted include fishy aftertaste and bad breath, along with rashes in some cases. Those with seafood allergies should also consult their physicians before taking fish oil supplements.
Should you take omega-3 supplements?
Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Omega-3s are essential for cell growth and overall health, and it's critical to include them in your normal dietary intake. Ideally, it's best to do this through sources such as fish, walnuts, flaxseed oil and other foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
However, if you can't include these foods in your diet, omega-3 supplements are a relatively safe alternative. It's easy to find supplements that are packed with a balanced serving of all three major omega-3s, and they're relatively inexpensive. Keep in mind, though, that these should be taken in moderation and in consultation with your doctor. Some omega-3 supplements may interact with other drugs or supplements you're taking, and you may experience other side effects.
Although more research is needed to fully discover all the benefits of omega-3s, one thing is clear: They're an important part of any balanced diet.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients found in algae, fish oil, olive oil, walnuts, soybeans, and other plant foods. Foods for omega 3 re important because they play an active role in inflammation, brain development, immune system function, and cardiovascular health. The 3 principal omega-3 fatty acids are:
Many health organizations in the United States and Europe recommend that healthy persons ingest at least 250–500 mg of EPA and DHA each day. You can get there by consuming 10ml of our unique High Phenolic Olive + Algae Vegan Omega 3 Oil (EPA DHA ALA), which has an ideal omega 6 to omega 3 ratio (1.5:1). But there are so many healthy food combinations out there that are worthy of your attention when it comes to a rich diet in omega-3 fatty acids, e.g. fatty fish, algae, several high-fat plant food, and many more.
At MILESTONE®, we strictly select the best natural formulations and avoid synthetic ingredients. For this reason, we have created a list of the top 5 natural foods containing the most omega-3 fatty acids . The good news is that you don’t have to buy supplements to get your fill; instead, add the omega 3 functional foods listed below into your diet. You may also check out our cornerstone article on the amazing omega-3 health benefits.
5 Foods Full with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
According to the National Institutes of Health , we’ve discovered some of the most functional and tasty food sources of omega-3 fatty acids. We used the USDA’s food database to calculate the omega-3 content of the foods mentioned below, totaling the ALA, DHA, EPA, and DPA for each one. Consume as much as you can while waiting for the benefits to start!
1. High Phenolic Olive + Algae Omega 3 Oil
Omega-3 content: 250 mg per 10ml (raw)
Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio: 1.5:1
It is the most natural and highly concentrated food for omega 3 fatty acids that we are aware of. And yes, it tops our list because it has unparalleled qualities. It originates from the combination of the powerful properties of the olive tree and algae. Our formula supplies you with 250mg of the best vegan omega 3s (10ml / day), together with a set of bioactive compounds with pharmacological properties, e.g. oleacin, oleocanthal, oleuropein, elenolide, tyrosol, hydroxytyrosol. The concentration of olive oil polyphenols is among the highest in the world and always exceeds 500mg/kg. Olive oil polyphenols will certainly contribute to the reduction of your oxidative stress markers.
Omega-3 content: 1500 mg per serving
Salmon is one of the world’s most nutrient-dense foods but it is also among the most controversial ones. Salmon farms have been chastised for their environmental impacts, but the possible human health concerns of eating farmed salmon have not been thoroughly investigated. Researchers from the University of Indiana Bloomington found that concentrations of organochlorine pollutants are much greater in farmed salmon than in wild salmon after analyzing approximately 2 metric tons of farmed and wild salmon from throughout the world. . We would always advise you to eat wild food, and avoid food that is produced under intensified farming methods, which goes much beyond just salmon. It is true however that salmon is packed with high-quality protein and a wide range of minerals, including plenty of vitamin D, selenium, and B vitamins and this is why it is considered to be among the best foods for omega 3 supply. Just make sure that you eat the right food from the best origin.
Omega-3 content: 1500mg per 100 gr
Sardines are small oily fish typically served as an appetizer, snack, or delicacy. They’re packed with nutrients, especially if eaten whole. They have nearly every nutrient your body needs. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of drained sardines contains about 370 percent of the daily value (DV) for vitamin B12, 24 percent for vitamin D, and 96 percent for selenium. Tip to remember: the sardine lipid content changes in accordance with the fishing season. Choose to eat sardines in spring or idealy summer when the lipid content is at the highest levels .
4. Seaweed & Algae
Omega-3 content: depends on the type of algae
Many individuals consume algae such as seaweed, nori, spirulina, and chlorella for their health advantages . Because they are one of the few plant categories that contain DHA and EPA, seaweed and algae are essential sources of omega-3 for vegetarians and vegans. The amount of DHA and EPA in a product varies based on the type of algae and the product. At MILESTONE, we carefully select our algae source in order to be toxic-free, free of any chemicals or contaminants, and with high functional benefits. Our organically cultivated algae is among the best functional foods for omega 3 in the world.
5. Hemp seeds
Omega-3 content: 156 mg per 1 cup (cooked)
Every 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds has 868 g of ALA (tbsp). They also include a variety of nutrients, including: magnesium, iron, and zinc are all found in protein. Hemp seeds have been shown to be beneficial to the heart, digestion, and skin in studies . There are many other great foods for omega-3 plant-based sources that you can reach out: Beans, Soybeans, Hemp Seeds, Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds and Walnuts among others.
Supplements vs Real Food
As the health benefits of omega-3 have been more well known, people have begun storing omega-3 capsules to supplement their regular consumption; however, researchers have shown that this may not be the most effective approach to gain their health benefits.
“The greatest method to obtain more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is through food,” Elizabeth Johnson, a Tufts University researcher who studies the function of antioxidants in eye and brain health, told NPR. So, if you’ve been paying for fish-oil tablets, consider this excellent news: You can stop taking those horse-pill-sized gel caps and start eating actual food again, with functional properties and real health benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary nutrients that can be obtained from foods or supplements. DHA, EPA, and ALA are the three kinds of omega-3s. It has been shown through research that you better choose to receive them via foods since the absorption and overall health effects are much higher as opposed to supplements. Functional foods for omega 3 fatty acids may safeguard heart health, boost cognitive performance, and reduce the risk of developing various chronic diseases.
A Word From MILESTONE®
MILESTONE® Food for your Genes uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.