Page: 6 of 7

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids were first discovered about 30 years ago when scientists examined diets of the Inuit and Japanese. Food remains one of the best ways to increase your intake, leading some experts to believe that consumers may be missing the point by jumping straight to supplements. Besides providing the health benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), fish and other foods rich in omega-3s contain more nutrients than omega-3 supplements. In addition, the vitamins, minerals, protein and fish oil may provide a combined health effect that's greater than fish oil alone.

Boosting your omega-3 intake through food avoids the side effects commonly seen with supplements -- most notably, fish burps. However, it may be difficult to consume the 3 to 4 mg each day of EPA plus DHA that has been shown to reduce high triglycerides. This leads to the obvious question: Besides fatty fish, which foods are best? There's no one best source, as different foods can provide different types of omega-3s. Nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while fish and seaweed contain high amounts of EPA and DHA. Oils rich in ALA include flaxseed, canola, soybean and walnut oils. Canola oil maintains its EPA and DHA when heated to high temperatures but flaxseed oil doesn't, making the latter a better option for drizzling on foods, such as salads, yogurt and prepared oatmeal. See the tables at the end of this section for foods rich in ALA, EPA and DHA.

Fish may be the answer when it comes to omega-3s, but depending on whether that fish is farmed or wild, the amount of EPA and DHA -- and the level of contaminants -- may vary. For more on contaminants in fish, see our What to Look For page. The way fish is prepared can also affect its omega-3 content; some cooking methods can alter the form and negate the benefits of these fatty acids. Opt to broil or bake, and forgo the fryer. To find out how many fatty acids are in your food before and after cooking, see the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Data Laboratory.

If you're concerned about the overharvesting of fish, Seafood Watch identifies sustainable seafood. A sustainable fishery is one that can continue indefinitely while maintaining a healthy fish population and has minimal impact on the environment. For more on Seafood Watch and to access pocket guides and an iPhone app, see Seafood Watch.

Foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids

More and more foods are being fortified with omega-3s, specifically DHA. Infant formulas are the most prevalent, with milk, butter and eggs also topping the list. Grocery store shelves are stocked with omega-3 fortified nonstick cooking spray, mayonnaise, peanut butter and yogurt. Animal products such as eggs and meat can be fortified with DHA by simply changing the creature's diet. Chickens fed algae DHA will lay eggs containing about 150 mg DHA each, and studies show that free-range poultry and beef have higher levels of omega-3s than their grain-fed counterparts. A preliminary study published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that the omega-3 fatty acids in these foods are absorbed as well as those in supplements.

Foods rich in ALA, EPA and DHA

Amount of ALA, EPA and DHA in ½ cup serving when boiled:

Food

ALA* (mg)

EPA (mg)

DHA (mg)

Broccoli

93

0

0

Brussels sprouts

135

0

0

Canola oil (1 tablespoon)

1,279

0

0

Cauliflower

104

0

0

Flaxseed – (1 teaspoon) ground

570

0

0

Flaxseed oil (1 tablespoon)

7,249

0

0

Kale

67

0

0

Kidney beans

150

0

0

Pinto beans (100 grams)

118

0

0

Pumpkin seeds (1 cup)

49

0

0

Seaweed (Agar) – (100 grams) dried

1

87

0

Seaweed (Kelp) – (100 grams) raw

4

4

0

Seaweed (Spirulina) – dried

461

0

0

Seaweed (Wakame) – (1/8 cup) raw

0

19

0

Soybeans

514

0

0

Soybean oil (1 tablespoon)

923

0

0

Spinach

83

0

0

Spinach – raw

21

0

0

Walnuts – shelled

4,540

0

0

Walnut oil (1 tablespoon)

1,414

0

0

Winter squash

94

0

0

*May include some amount of the omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid

Amount of EPA and DHA in a 3-ounce (85 g) serving, when cooked with dry heat:

Type of Seafood

EPA (mg)

DHA (mg)

Anchovy – canned in oil (2 oz.)

343

581

Catfish (farmed)

17

59

Catfish (wild)

85

116

Cod (Atlantic)

3

131

Cod (Pacific)

36

100

Crab (Alaskan king) – steamed

251

100

Crab (blue) – steamed

86

57

Flatfish (flounder and sole)

143

112

Grouper

30

181

Haddock

43

93

Halibut (Atlantic and Pacific)

68

132

Herring (Atlantic)

773

939

Herring (Pacific)

1,056

751

Lobster (northern) – steamed

99

66

Mackerel (Atlantic)

428

594

Mackerel (king)

148

193

Mackerel (Spanish)

250

809

Mackerel (Pacific and jack)

555

1,016

Mahi Mahi (dolphinfish)

22

96

Pollock (Atlantic)

77

383

Salmon (Atlantic, farmed)

587

1,238

Salmon (Atlantic, wild)

349

1,215

Salmon (chinook)

858

618

Salmon (sockeye)

228

445

Salmon (sockeye) – raw

191

374

Sardines – canned in oil (3.75 oz.)

435

468

Scallop – steamed

61

88

Shrimp – steamed

43

44

Snapper

41

232

Swordfish

108

656

Tilapia

4

111

Tuna (bluefin)

309

970

Tuna (bluefin) – raw

241

757

Tuna (white) – canned in water

198

535

Tuna (light) – canned in water

40

190

Trout

220

575

Back to top