Omega-3 fatty acids are often referenced in the news, in magazines, and by health care professionals. They’re popular for good reason: because they help support human health.1 So you might ask the question, “how much omega-3 should I take?” Read on to learn all about omega-3 fatty acids and the best omega-3 dosage to take.
What Are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a category of polyunsaturated fatty acids used by the body for a variety of important functions.2 They cannot be made by the human body. Therefore, they are considered essential fatty acids.3
The Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Along with their counterparts, the omega-6 fatty acids, which are also essential, the omega 3s play numerous important roles in the body, including contributing to the structure of cell membranes and providing the body with a source of energy.4 They also help support heart health, brain health, kidney function, eye health, the immune system, and skin health.5
Unlike most other macronutrients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not set a recommended daily allowance (RDA) for omega-3 intake. Instead, the intake recommendations that are considered adequate are 1.6g/day for males and 1.1g/day for females. If you’re pregnant or nursing, your omega-3 dosage needs increase slightly, to about 1.4g/day. Check with your doctor to find out how much omega-3 you need.6
Types Of Omega-3 Fats
Dietary omega-3 fatty acids come in three varieties: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These are considered long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Our bodies naturally convert ALA into DHA and EPA.
ALA is found in plants and vegetable oils, while EPA and DHA are found in seafood, like fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and trout) and shellfish (crab, mussels, and oysters). Omega-3s are also commonly taken in the form of dietary supplements like fish oil supplements, which contain EPA and DHA, and flaxseed oil supplements, which contain ALA.7
What Are Natural Sources Of Omega 3s?
Foods That Provide Plentiful Omega-3s
The main animal source of omega-3s is fatty fishes and other seafood, like shellfish. These contain DHA and EPA.
Plant sources contain ALA and include:
- Nuts, like walnuts
- Seeds, like flax seeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Foods made from soy
These plant foods with omega-3 fats also contain potent vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber, all of which help support a heart-healthy diet. Chia and flax have the highest concentration of all the plant-based omega-3 sources.8
Other Naturally-Occurring Sources Of Omega-3s
In addition to the foods listed above, the following foods also contain omega-3s, albeit in much smaller quantities:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Algae (in the form of algae oils)9
In fact, certain microalgae are the source of high levels of DHA and EPA in aquatic environments. These microalgae are then consumed up the aquatic food chain.10
How Much Omega-3 Fatty Acid Is In Fish And Seafood?
Although seafood is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, not all oily fish have the same nutritional benefit. Here’s how some of the top aquatic options stack up:
- Herring, salmon (wild King and farmed Atlantic), and mackerel have the most omega-3s per 3-ounce cooked portion, at more than 1,500mg.
- Canned salmon, canned mackerel, and bluefin tuna contain 1,000mg-1,500mg.
- Salmon, Wild (Sockeye, Coho, Chum, and Pink), sardines, canned albacore tuna, swordfish, farmed rainbow trout, and all oysters and mussels contain 500mg-1,000mg milligrams.11
By comparison, 3 ounces of grass-fed beef contains roughly 80-100mg of omega-3 fatty acids.12 You could do a lot better by eating the many types of fish on the list above, without consuming the saturated fat and cholesterol.
Other Dietary Sources Of Omega 3s
Foods Fortified With Omega-3
To make it easier for consumers, many foods on supermarket shelves are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, like DHA. These additional sources include certain brands of eggs, yogurt, cereals, juices, milk, and infant formula.13
Supplementation Doses With Omega-3
Supplements are another helpful way to maintain your omega-3 fat levels. Omega-3 dietary supplements include fish oils, krill oil, cod liver oil, and algal oil (a vegetarian source that comes from algae). Supplementation provides a wide range of doses and forms of omega-3s.14
How Do Omega-3s Affect Health?
How Do You Know If You’re Getting Enough Omega-3s?
If you’re eating plant-based sources, you can’t go wrong eating chia seeds and flax seeds. Flaxseed, in particular, is the richest source of ALA in the North American diet, in addition to being an excellent source of high-quality protein and potassium. A healthy amount is around 1 to 2 tablespoons of chia seeds or 2-3 tablespoons of ground flax seeds each day. Just be sure to add them to your diet slowly, so your body adjusts to the high levels of fiber.15
What about omega-3s from animal sources? The American Heart Association recommends that people with a healthy heart eat a variety of fish, preferably the fatty type, at least twice a week. Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure how much you need.16,17,18,19
What Else Is There To Consider About Omega 3s?
The Omega-6 Vs. Omega-3 Ratio Matters
It is not just the amount of omega-3 fats that you eat in your diet. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 matters as well. For optimal health, your diet should consist of a ratio of about one to four times more omega-6 than omega-3.20
Does The Source Of Your Food Matter?
When it comes to determining the omega-3 content of your food, consider the source of the food. Wild salmon, for instance, eat smaller fish that naturally contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. But what about farmed salmon? Depending on the source, these fish might contain as much or more EPA and DHA as wild-caught fish. However, that farmed fish also may have higher levels of saturated and polyunsaturated fats.21
Likewise with beef. Studies have shown that there is a significant difference in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio between grass-fed and grain-fed cows. Beef is very low in omega-3s as compared with fish. However, cattle that have been fed grass showed a significant increase in the omega-3 content of their meat, leading to a more desirable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio than grain-fed beef.22
Omega-3 Dosage and Healthful Diets
Whether through eating fish like salmon, mackerel, or sardines, or taking omega-3 supplementation, like fish oils, your body should have access to plenty of high-quality fatty acid content. These foods form the foundation of a healthful diet. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your Omega 3 levels or are not sure how much to take.
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