As you meander down the grocery aisles each week you are sure to see many products listing Omega-3. Obviously there is something to this o”MEGA” industry. Admittedly, I am enchanted by the power of omega-3 fatty acids and enjoy reading and learning more about why we should include them in our diet and the best ways to do so. Let me start off simply saying that the best way to get your omega-3s is from a variety of natural sources--does this sound familiar? There are different types of omega-3 fatty acids and they affect the body differently. Let’s start by getting a few definitions out of the way.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): I have seen this described as the parent omega-3 fatty acid. Technically all the omega-3 fatty acids can be made from ALA, however research shows that this conversion does not take place in the body very efficiently. ALA is found in plants, green leafy vegetables, flax, and canola oil.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): These omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fish and fish oil. Much of the health protective qualities of omega-3 fatty acids are attributed to these omega-3 fatty acids.
Both or all forms of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown effective for treatment and prevention of CVD, but many of the other health benefits attributed to omega-3 fatty acids are referring to EPA and DHA. This is why it is important to get your omega-3s from a variety of sources.
Common foods naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids:
|DHA and EPA Sources (3.5 ounce||ALA sources|
|Trout||1,848mg||Flaxseeds (ground) 2T||3,200mg|
|Halibut||456mg||Flaxseed oil, 1T||7,300mg|
|Tuna||328mg||Walnut oil, 1T||1,400mg|
|Scallop||180mg||Canola oil, 1T||130mg|
Many other fruits and vegetables are high in ALA such as, raspberries, spinach, pinto beans, kidney beans and edamame (cooked green soybeans).
What about fortified products? Are they good? Should we consume them to get our omega-3s? In general I like to encourage people to eat food in the simplest form possible, and of course get nutrients from natural sources. However, the fact is that the majority of people do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. So for that reason I think some fortification is a fine idea. Also consider there are people who may not wish to eat fish or are allergic to fish. Many foods are fortified with ALA, and that is good, but if you are purchasing something specifically for the omega-3 content, do try to find products that contain DHA. The following is a list of omega-3 enriched products that I like for one reason or another. Certainly this is not an exhaustive list but I do hope it will get you started adding omega-3s to your diet.
Dairy: (all having about 32mg DHA)
Facts of interest:
Wild game meat typically contains more omega-3 fatty acids because the animals feast on wild plants. Similarly, cows that are grass fed or free-range produce meat with a higher omega-3 fatty acid content.
Algal oil is a source of omega-3 produced from algae or seaweed. It is used by many vegetarians and is also being added to fortify foods.
The bottom line: If you struggle to get two servings of omega-rich fish in each week, it may be beneficial to seek out products fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. Many times these products are more expensive. Because you are paying more for the product to get health benefits, it is best to look for products that are fortified with DHA vs. ALA. It is easy (and less expensive) to increase ALA intake on your own. To increase ALA intake, use canola oil, choose canola margarine and mayonnaise, add ground flaxseed to your baked goods (replace ¼ cup flour with ¼ cup flax), and eat plenty of greens.