Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that we need to obtain from our diet and that we can’t make in our own bodies. I’ve shared the health benefits in a previous post but where can you find omega-3-rich foods?
There are several sources of omega-3 fats from fatty fish, algae, and several high-fat seeds and nuts.
It is recommended that healthy adults take in approximately 250–500 milligrams (mg) of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) each day. This amount can be achieved by eating two servings of oily fish per week. The National Institutes of Health suggests that for alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, a plant-based omega-3, the adequate intake should be 1,600 mg for those assigned male at birth and 1,100 mg for those assigned female at birth.
Many other foods contain omega-3 fatty acids at moderate levels including:
Eggs – free-range, pasture-raised and omega-3 enriched
Meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals
Vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, spinach, purslane
Foods containing omega-3 fat in the form of ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA, although this conversion is not very efficient. Therefore, nutritionists suggest vegetarians and vegans take EPA or DHA supplements to rectify this deficiency.
Omega-3 supplements come in many varieties, ranging from regular fish oil to mammalian oil. These oils are in both natural and processed forms. It’s important to know how the fatty acids have been treated before you take them since some forms are more easily absorbed than others.
· Fish. In whole fish, omega-3 fatty acids appear as free fatty acids, phospholipids, and triglycerides.
· Fish oil. In conventional fish oils, omega-3 fatty acids are predominately present as triglycerides.
· Processed fish oil.
Fish oils are often processed to create ethyl esters, a process that lets food chemists change the amount of DHA and EPA within the oil.
· Reformed triglycerides.
Processed fish oil containing ethyl esters can be converted back into triglycerides, known as "reformed" triglycerides.
The omega-3s in ethyl esters are beneficial to your health, but research shows that they do not absorb as well as the other forms of omega-3s — although some studies suggest that absorption levels are similar for all three forms (Ref 1).
Some of the best omega-3 fatty acids supplements are natural fish oil or krill oil for those who eat fish, whilst algal oil Is best for vegans and vegetarians.
Natural fish oil is derived from the tissue of oily fish and is found in triglyceride form. It is as close to eating actual fish as one can get. Vitamins A and D are also present in natural fish oil, with salmon, sardines, herring, menhaden, and cod liver being the most common sources. You can purchase this oil in either capsule or liquid form (Ref 2).
Krill oil is sourced from krill, a miniature crustacean (Ref 3), and contains omega-3s in triglyceride and phospholipid form. This type of oil is highly stable due to the presence of astaxanthin (Ref 4) - an antioxidant compound found in it naturally. Krill is tiny and lives for a short period, so it does not accumulate many pollutants during its lifetime. As such, their oil does not require much purification and usually comes in the ethyl ester structure.
Marine microalgae are an excellent source of EPA and DHA triglycerides. In fact, the EPA and DHA in fish actually originate from consuming this type of algae. Analyses reveal that algal oil contains more omega-3s (Ref 5), particularly DHA than fish oil does. This is great news for vegetarians and vegans looking to get their recommended daily intake of omega-3s.
Whilst I do eat oily fish, I supplement and often suggest this to many of my patients. The brand I take is Wiley’s Finest however, there are many other great brands out there.
Use code TORALWF20 for a 20% discount on products from Wiley’s Finest
Nordøy A, Barstad L, Connor WE, Hatcher L. Absorption of the n-3 eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids as ethyl esters and triglycerides by humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 May;53(5):1185-90. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/53.5.1185. PMID: 1826985.
Byelashov OA, Sinclair AJ, Kaur G. Dietary sources, current intakes, and nutritional role of omega-3 docosapentaenoic acid. Lipid Technol. 2015 Apr;27(4):79-82. doi: 10.1002/lite.201500013. PMID: 26097290; PMCID: PMC4467567.
Tou JC, Jaczynski J, Chen YC. Krill for human consumption: nutritional value and potential health benefits. Nutr Rev. 2007 Feb;65(2):63-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2007.tb00283.x. PMID: 17345959.
Lu FS, Bruheim I, Haugsgjerd BO, Jacobsen C. Effect of temperature towards lipid oxidation and non-enzymatic browning reactions in krill oil upon storage. Food Chem. 2014 Aug 15;157:398-407. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.02.059. Epub 2014 Feb 22. PMID: 24679797
Arterburn LM, Oken HA, Bailey Hall E, Hamersley J, Kuratko CN, Hoffman JP. Algal-oil capsules and cooked salmon: nutritionally equivalent sources of docosahexaenoic acid. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jul;108(7):1204-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.020. PMID: 18589030