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Omega 3 Food Sources - Are you getting enough?

Updated: May 2

As a Registered Dietitian counselling clients, Omega-3 is a nutrient that I keep an eye out for. With a well-planned diet, you may be able to consume adequate Omega-3. For vegans or people who don’t consume two servings of fatty fish per week, it may be necessary to supplement.

Underwater picture of algae (source of Omega 3)

What is Omega-3?

Omega-3 is a fatty acid, with the three main types being ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA comes from plant sources like walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and canola. EPA and DHA come from fish. Fish consume phytoplankton that in turn consume microalgae. Vegans can get EPA/DHA from an algae supplement.

ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is very small (estimated at ~15%). You either need to consume very large amounts of ALA or supplement if you don't eat fatty fish.

Why are Omega-3 fatty acids important?

Picture of green brain
Close up of blue eye

Omega-3 is an essential nutrient, meaning that your body can’t make enough on its own. This means that you need to get the nutrient from the foods you eat or from dietary supplements. Omega-3s provide your body with energy and support the health of many body systems, including your cardiovascular system and endocrine system. For people with conditions like heart disease and diabetes, omega-3 is sometimes recommended because there is potential for it to lower your triglycerides.

Omega-3s are part of your cell membranes and help your body function. They are especially important for your eyes and brain.

Parfait layered with nuts, chia seeds, yogurt, granola and blueberries

Food Sources of Omega-3

  • ALA: walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, canola oil

  • EPA/DHA: fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, black cod, sardines, bluefin tuna, whitefish, striped bass)

How much Omega-3 do I need?

There is not an Adequate Intake (AI) recommendation for EPA/DHA, but the suggested amount is ~250-500mg daily. The only direct sources are fish or algae. The AI for ALA for women is 1.1g per day and 1.6g/day for men, with amounts being higher for pregnant/breastfeeding women. If you are not consuming EPA/DHA (fish or algae), add 2g/day to your AI. This could be met by consuming 2 tablespoons of ground flax or 2 tablespoons chia seeds per day. Walnuts are also a good source at ~2.2g ALA per 1/4 cup.

close up of 4 walnuts
ground flax seed on spoon

*As always, get personalized food/nutrient recommendations from your Registered Dietitian or healthcare team.

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