Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Nutrient

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning our bodies are not able to produce them on their own.  They must be obtained them from the foods we consume. Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that are needed for many functions in our body. Omega-3s are an important part of the membranes that surround every cell in the body. They are also serve important functions in the heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system.

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Food Sources

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in seafood. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant-based foods like canola and soy. Below are the foods richest in omega-3 fatty acids. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about limiting the amount of high mercury fish you consume.

  • Fish and other seafood- especially cold-water fatty fish including salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines
  • Nuts and seeds- flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts
  • Plant oils- flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil
  • Fortified foods- certain brands of milk, soy beverages, eggs, yogurt, and infant formula

Benefits 

Omega-3 fatty acids offer major health benefits and reduce the risk of chronic illnesses and disease. Some of the most valuable benefits include:

  • Reducing risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reducing risk of blood clots
  • Reducing plaque build-up in the arteries
  • Lowering triglyceride levels
  • Reducing harmful inflammation in the body that can lead to hardening of the arteries

Is Supplementation Necessary?

The American Heart Association recommends that the average person eats 6-8 ounces of fatty fish per week to obtain adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. If you have heart disease, it is recommended that you have 1 gram of EPA (eicosapentenoic acid) + DHA (docosahaenoic acid) found in fish daily. If you do not eat fish, due to allergy or dislike, you may want to discuss taking a supplement with your doctor.

If you can consume two servings of fish a week as well as a moderate amount of flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil, you should be able to obtain adequate omega-3 fatty acids through diet alone. A registered dietitian is a great resource in determining the adequacy of your current diet as well as helping you plan a diet rich in omega- 3 fatty acids for optimal heart health.

Sarah Hammaker, RDN

Sarah Hammaker, RDN is a clinical dietitian working primarily in long-term care and acute rehabilitation hospital settings in Pennsylvania. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and their four children. She loves running and being outdoors. Her hobbies include reading, planting and shopping.

If you have more questions about omega-3 fatty acids, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions. Click here to request a direct consultation with a dietitian today!


References:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Available at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17290-omega-3-fatty-acids Accessed on May 7, 2022.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/ Accessed on July 28, 2022.

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