Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids and they play a vital role in improving our health. These essential acids keep us safe from cardiovascular diseases, inflammation, arthritis, and even cancer.
On the other side, a deficiency may result in mood swings, fatigue, memory problems, heart problems, depression, and impaired circulation.
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 you have a good variety to choose from. But before we dive in, here’s a look at the different kinds of omega 3 fatty acids you’ll get from dietary sources.
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 the 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 for EPA and DHA, with vegan options making up the balance.
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.
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.
Foods rich with omega 3 fatty acids
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 DHA and EPA while canned pink salmon a little less. A 3 oz serving will give you:
- 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 simple salt and sugar or citrus cure can work well.
2. Atlantic Herring
Another fish worth trying if you haven’t already is the Atlantic herring. A cooked 3 oz portion of Atlantic herring has 0.94 gm of DHA and 0.77 gm of EPA.
You can smoke your herring or have it grilled or even fried. You might even enjoy a poached herring. It is heavenly with some mustard and greens.
You could also have it with roasted garlic and lime or thyme and lime. Or serve it with a side of mustard mayonnaise.
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 EPA and 0.201 gm of DHA.
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.
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 based meals a week.
- 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
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. Sardines canned in oil have 0.468 gm of DHA and 0.435 gm of EPA in a similar serving size.
Use them to make an interesting sardine pate with cottage cheese and yogurt. Or how about turning them into fritters or fishcakes?
You can even slap some between two slices of bread along with your favorite fillings for an omega 3-rich sandwich.
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. 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?
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.
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.
7. Chia Seeds
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. You could also add the seeds to pancake batter, oatmeal, muffins, brownies, and even jam!
Spinach is another good vegan way to get your omega 3 fatty acids. A cup of boiled frozen spinach delivering 0.704 gm of ALA and a cup of boiled fresh spinach gives you 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.
9. Flax Seeds
Nutty flax seeds pack in 2.35 gm of ALA per tablespoon. 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. Bread, cookies, cakes, and muffins also work well with these seeds added in for texture and flavor.
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.
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!
Conclusion: Add some of these omega 3 fatty acids rich foods. They can help you to improve your health and they are tasty at the same time. It is better to intake this fatty acid naturally from your food than taking supplements.