Omega 3 fatty acids are celebrated as a nutrient for their many health benefits – some potentially life-saving. After all, these polyunsaturated fatty acids may have a role to play in warding off cardiovascular disease, inflammatory conditions like arthritis, or even cancer.1 They may even help with normal brain development and cognitive ability. The essential fatty acids have also been linked to better immunity, improved cholesterol levels, and better skin health.2 On the other side, a deficiency may result in mood swings, fatigue, memory problems, heart problems, depression, and impaired circulation.3
If you’re trying to increase your intake of the essential fatty acids via your diet, we have a round-up of the best omega 3 fatty acid-rich foods. They include some that are vegetarian and many that are fish based, so
Types Of Omega 3 Fatty Acids And Recommended Intake
Depending on the dietary source, your omega 3 fatty acids could come in one or more forms. The most prominent are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). If you’ve been investigating omega 3 fatty acids, chances are you’ve been told to increase intake of fatty fish. These fish are rich in EPA and DHA, the kind associated with some of the health benefits mentioned before. Vegetarian sources usually have ALA. While research on its benefits isn’t as extensive, studies indicate its potential in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
ALA itself can be converted to EPA and DHA in your body although the conversion isn’t very efficient. So if you’re looking for a better shot at health benefits from omega 3 and don’t have dietary restrictions that prevent you from having fish, those may need to be your go-to source
There is no recommended level prescribed for omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, but there is for ALA. Aim at 1.6 gm per day if you’re an adult male, 1.1 gm if you’re an adult female. If you have a baby on board, take 1.4 gm a day and consume 1.3 gm a day if you’re a nursing mother.5
Keeping this in mind, here are foods that contain not just ALA but also the important EPA and DHA that are known to have far-reaching health benefits for you.
Salmon leads the pack when it comes to omega 3 fatty acid content. Depending on what kind you have, the DHA and EPA content too will vary. Fresh salmon may have marginally more
- Salmon, Atlantic, farmed: 1.24 gm DHA; 0.59 gm EPA
- Salmon, Atlantic, wild: 1.22 gm DHA; 0.35 gm EPA
- Salmon, pink, canned: 0.04 gm ALA; 0.63 gm DHA; 0.28 gm EPA
Smoked salmon is wonderful in sandwiches or on a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast. The fish grilled or baked with vegetables is a filling meal. If you are up for something new, how about trying your hand at curing some good quality salmon? A beetroot cure or a simple salt and sugar or citrus cure can work well.
2. Atlantic Herring
A serving of Atlantic herring: 0.94 gm of DHA and 0.77 gm of EPA
Another fish worth trying if you haven’t already is the Atlantic herring. A cooked 3 oz portion of
Tuna casseroles, salads, or even tuna melt sandwiches – the options with tuna are yummy and irresistible. You can even have some fun with tuna quesadillas or tuna stuffed potatoes and won’t be disappointed! If you can get your hands on fresh tuna, enjoy it lightly seared with a crunchy and flavorsome crust of sesame and flaxseeds (for added omega-3!). A 3 oz serving of cooked skipjack tuna has 0.077 gm of
In the canned form, which is more widely available, white (albacore) tuna contains 0.535 gm of DHA and 0.198 gm of EPA in a 3 oz portion.9 Light tuna has 0.190 gm of DHA and 0.040 gm of EPA in a 3 oz portion of the canned fish.10
While white tuna is richer in omega 3 fatty acids than light tuna or skipjack, it tends to have more mercury content as well. So don’t have too much of it too often. The FDA recommends that you limit intake of albacore tuna to 6 oz a week if you have about two sea-food
- A serving of cooked skipjack tuna: 0.077 gm of EPA and 0.201 gm of DHA
- A serving of canned white tuna: 0.535 gm of DHA and 0.198 gm of EPA
- A serving of canned light tuna: 0.190 gm of DHA and 0.040 gm of EPA
A serving of canned sardines: 0.468 gm of DHA and 0.435 gm of EPA
Canned fish like sardines aren’t just convenient for a quick-fix meal but are also a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. A 3 oz serving of canned sardines in tomato sauce has 0.74 gm of DHA and 0.45 gm of EPA.12 Sardines canned in oil have 0.468 gm of DHA
5. Atlantic Mackerel
A serving of cooked Atlantic mackerel: 0.59 gm of DHA and 0.43 gm of EPA
A 3 oz serving of cooked Atlantic mackerel has 0.59 gm of DHA and 0.43 gm of EPA; so it is another solid seafood choice for omega 3 intake.14 Atlantic mackerel is quite delicious simply broiled and flavored with some garlic, herbs, and a squeeze of lime. Oven-roasted mackerel also goes down well with a light seasoning of your choice. Soy and ginger or miso or garlic and bay leaves are some solid choices. You could also have fun with some chargrilled mackerel with Korean chili paste or a Goan fish curry from India. Atlantic mackerel makes a smarter choice than king mackerel or Spanish mackerel which often have very high levels of mercury.15
6. Rainbow Trout
A serving of wild rainbow trout: 0.44 gm of DHA and 0.40 gm of EPA
If you enjoy trout, then dig in! A 3 oz serving of wild rainbow trout has 0.44 gm of DHA and 0.40 gm of EPA.16 Bake it in foil with tomatoes and herbs or just some garlic butter for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. The quick cooking fish also tastes divine crumb coated with panko and parmesan. You could even pan fry or grill and serve it with a side of vegetables for a balanced and light meal. Use a cajun spice rub or some teriyaki marinade for something more unusual.
A tablespoon of caviar: 0.439 gm EPA and 0.608 gm of DHA
Feeling like splurging on some caviar? Each tablespoon of caviar has 0.439 gm EPA and 0.608 gm of DHA, so it may be well worth it.17 Have yours the traditional way with blinis or use them to oomph up some deviled eggs. You could even finish off a nice seafood or oyster soup with a garnish of some caviar. If you’re a connoisseur, you’ll dream up plenty of ways to make the most of this luxe ingredient! For instance, how about making canapes with creme fraiche and caviar or mushroom parcels topped with caviar?
An ounce of English walnuts: 2.57 gm of ALA
Most varieties of walnuts have heaps of ALA in them. English walnuts contain around 2.57 gm ALA per ounce while the mild butternuts, also a type of walnut, have 2.472 gm of ALA in an ounce.18 19 The more robust, earthy black walnuts contain 0.759 gm of the omega 3 fatty acid per ounce.20 21 You can use them in sweets like brownies or indulge your sweet tooth with candied walnuts or walnuts added to your yogurt. Even savory recipes like salads and soups or vegetables au gratin take well to the addition of walnuts. They also add a nice texture to chicken recipes.
A tablespoon of flaxseeds: 2.35 gm of ALA
Nutty flaxseeds pack in 2.35 gm of ALA per tablespoon.22 So consider adding them to your meals in some form if you’re trying to diversify from fish-based sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Use them in cereal, smoothies, or on yogurt. Add them to breaded meats or as a toasted garnish for soups. Breads, cookies, cakes, and muffins also work well with these seeds added in for texture and flavor.
A serving of oysters: 0.14 gm of ALA, 0.23 gm of DHA, and 0.30 gm of EPA
Oysters are an indulgence but also a great way to get in your omega 3 fatty acids. And the best part is you’ll get EPA, DHA, as well as ALA from them. Every 3 oz of cooked oysters has around 0.14 g of ALA, 0.23 gm of DHA, and 0.30 gm of EPA.23 They taste divine with a drizzle of flavored butter or relishes and chutneys. Deep fried oysters are a real crowd pleaser and more approachable for those who haven’t tried them before. The more experimental could try them in oyster pie, with scrambled eggs, or in a New Orleans style po’boy sandwich. You may also enjoy your oysters raw with just a squeeze of lime or some tabasco.
11. Chia Seeds
An ounce of chia seeds: 5.055 gm of ALA
Chances are you have either tried, made, or at least seen a chia seed pudding on a menu somewhere. This base of chia seeds soaked in rice, nut, soy, or regular milk can be very versatile. Add nuts, seeds, or fruit of your choice to change up the flavors. An ounce of the seeds contains 5.055 gm of ALA.24 You could also add the seeds to pancake batter, oatmeal, muffins, brownies, and even jam!
Tofu is a good vegan source of omega 3 fatty acids and is made by coagulating soy milk. Depending on whether you’re having the tofu made using nigari (magnesium chloride) and calcium sulfate or the kind that uses only calcium sulfate, you stand to have 0.210 gm or 0.733 gm of ALA per half cup.25 26 27
- Half a cup of tofu (made with calcium sulfate): 0.733 gm of ALA per half cup
- Half a cup of tofu (made with magnesium chloride and calcium sulfate): 0.210 gm of ALA per half cup
Use your tofu in Asian recipes or add it to salads or even miso soup. Pan fry it with your favorite vegetables, marinate and grill it, add it into tacos – the sky is the limit when it comes to playing around with this versatile protein!
13. Mungo Beans
A cup of cooked beans: 0.603 gm of ALA
Mungo bean, a black colored bean, is a great vegetarian source of omega 3 fatty acids. Sold whole as little black bead-like beans, they are white on the inside. They’re known as urid or urad dal in Indian grocery stores. Each cup of the cooked beans has 0.603 gm of ALA.28 You can slow cook these in a stew or bean casserole. Or experiment with the exotic Indian dal makhani or butter dal. They can even be used to make Indian lentil pancakes (dosas), steamed dumplings (idlis), and fried savory donuts (vadas).
- A cup of boiled frozen spinach: 0.704 gm of ALA
- A cup of boiled fresh spinach: 0.166 gm of ALA
Use your spinach to whip up delicious creamy spinach soup or add some to your pies and quiches. Spinach also tastes great in Asian style stir-fries, simply sauteed with some garlic. You could also braise it with other greens you like or add it to dips, fritters, or croquettes.
Enriched Foods And Cod Liver Oil
Omega 3 fatty acids are also now added to certain food products, thanks to the growing awareness about the importance of an omega 3-rich diet. The only issue here is you could have too much if you consume a lot of these foods. Also, the foods that contain these added omega 3 fatty acids may also be heavily processed and laced with additives. So you may wind up with unwanted sodium, sugar, or even the much-dreaded trans fats that have been implicated in a lot of health problems like heart disease. That said, if you are mindful of how much of these foods you consume and don’t make them your primary source of omega 3 fatty acids, you should still be fine. Some popular omega 3 enriched foods are eggs, milk, yogurt, soy milk, peanut butter, and cereal. The content varies significantly between brands and makes, so you will need to check the labels for nutrient content. This will not help you understand not just the amount of omega 3 you are getting, but also of omega 6, trans fats, and sugar and salt as well as any chemicals or preservatives.
Cod liver oil is another popular way for people to get in their omega 3 fatty acids. A tablespoon contains 0.127 gm of ALA, 0.938 gm of EPA, and 1.492 gm of DHA.31 If you do decide to have the cod liver oil, treat it as you would a supplement. Be aware of the risk of excessive consumption and ensure you do not have too much. Fish oil may also cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other side effects in some.
A tablespoon of cod liver oil: 0.127 gm of ALA, 0.938 gm of EPA, and 1.492 gm of DHA.
If you’re planning to get your EPA and DHA from supplements, be sure to never exceed 3 gm daily from them as it has the potential to thin your blood. Those with blood disorders or on blood thinning medication must especially consult their doctor before increasing intake of omega 3 fatty acids.32
|↑1, ↑3, ↑32||Omega 3 Fatty Acids. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑2||Simopoulos, Artemis P. “Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and in growth and development.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 54, no. 3 (1991): 438-463.|
|↑4, ↑6, ↑7, ↑12, ↑14, ↑16, ↑18, ↑22, ↑23||Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑5||Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑8||Fish, tuna, fresh, skipjack, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑9||Fish, tuna, white, canned in water, without salt, drained solids. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑10||Fish, tuna, light, canned in water, without salt, drained solids. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑11||What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish. FDA.|
|↑13||Fish, sardine, Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑15||Mackerel. Environmental Defense Fund.|
|↑17||Fish, caviar, black and red, granular. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑19||Nuts, butternuts, dried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑20||Nuts, walnuts, black, dried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑21||Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats. Dietitians of Canada.|
|↑24||Seeds, chia seeds, dried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑25||Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats. Dietitians of Canada.|
|↑26||Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride (nigari). United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑27||Tofu, raw, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑28||Mungo beans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑29||Spinach, frozen, chopped or leaf, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑30||Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑31||Fish oil, cod liver. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|