Top 10 sources of omega-3
Which foods are rich in omega-3 and what are the benefits of this essential fatty acid? We asked nutritionist Nicola Shubrook to explain.
You've probably seen omega-3 called out as a healthy nutrient but do you know which food supply it comes from and why it's good for you? Read on to discover the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and 10 foods to add to your diet in order to give yourself a boost.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid: it is classed as ‘essential’ because the body cannot make it, so we must get it from food. A form of poly-unsaturated fat, omega-3 can be divided into three main types:
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) – referred to as a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid, this type is typically found in plant and seed oils like flaxseed and chia.
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid found in oily varieties of fish including salmon, trout and mackerel. It’s the long chain versions that are most active, and as a result, more beneficial for health. The body can make EPA from ALA but not very efficiently.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) – is also a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid and found in oily varieties of fish, our body can convert EPA to DHA but with limitations.
How much omega-3 should we eat?
Currently the UK Government has no specific recommendations for omega-3 intake but advises us to eat two portions of fish per week, one portion of which should be oily (140g cooked weight), this equates to about 450-500mg EPA and DHA combined per day. However, other health bodies such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggest a daily intake of 250mg of the long-chain variety of omega-3 fatty acids.
For those who can’t or choose not to eat fish, a dietary supplement from a micro-algal source may be useful.
Who might be low in omega-3 fatty acids?
Younger generations, women of childbearing age and pregnant mothers as well as vegetarians and vegans appear to be at particular risk of omega-3 shortfalls. It’s also worth remembering that seasonality, the source of the fish you buy and how you cook it will all impact the omega-3 fatty acid levels in the fish on your plate.
What are the health benefits of omega-3?
These include neuroprotective benefits in infants and also in adults. Studies have linked omega-3 with benefits in the treatment of depression, as well as some benefits as an anti-inflammatory in chronic conditions including diabetes and heart disease.
Always see your GP or healthcare provider if you're concerned about any existing health issues before making significant changes to your diet.
Is oily fish safe for everyone?
Some oily fish may contain low levels of pollutants, including mercury, these have the potential to build up in the body if too much is consumed. For this reason, the NHS advise maximum recommendations for consumption of certain fish including shark, swordfish and marlin. This is especially relevant for girls, women of reproductive age as well as those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Visit the NHS website for more information.
Top 10 omega-3 rich foods
4.9g per fillet (90g) or 5.5g per 100g
Try our favourite mackerel recipes.
4.8g per fillet (120g) or 4g per 100g fresh salmon
Whether it’s wild, farmed, fresh or canned, salmon is a convenient source of omega-3. It can be roasted or poached, and any number of accompaniments can be used to add flavour including chilli, soy, lemon or herbs. Tinned salmon can be used in sandwich fillings or in fishcakes. Fresh salmon provides more omega-3, with about 4g per 100g, compared to canned salmon which has about 1.3g per 100g.
3. Cod liver oil
24.4g per 100g
One tablespoon of cod liver oil (14g) provides 1.7g of omega-3, making it a concentrated source of these essential fatty acids. However, it is always preferable to get nutrients from foods rather than supplementation – so try adding oily fish to your diet first. If this isn't possible and your GP has agreed that it is safe for you to take, the British Dietetic Association recommends looking for a supplement that contains around 450mg EPA and DHA per daily dose – the daily equivalent of eating one to two portions of oily fish per week.
Most cod liver oil capsules also contain vitamin D and A, so make sure that you're not taking any other supplements such as a multivitamin, or you may exceed the recommended amounts each day. The NHS advises against taking cod liver oil during pregnancy as it contains too much vitamin A, which can be harmful to a developing baby.
Read more about the health benefits and risks of cod liver oil.
5.2g per fillet (160g) or 3.3g per 100g
Try this recipe for spiced rice with kippers & poached eggs.
2.7g per tin (90g) or 3g per 100g
Sardines are small oily fish that pack a real flavour punch. The easiest way to buy sardines is in a can, with just one can providing around 2.7g of omega-3. Sardines are great on toast for breakfast or lunch, added to salad or pasta.
Try more tasty sardine recipes.
2.2g per fillet (130g) or 1.7g per 100g
Trout is part of the salmon family and, like its cousin, is also a good source of omega-3 with over 2g per fillet. It can be baked, grilled, stuffed, added to salads and risottos and used as the base for a fish pâté.
Discover more ways to cook trout.
7. Sea bass
2.1g per fillet (125g) or 1.7g per 100g
Sea bass is a meatier, stronger flavoured fish that works with subtle and punchy flavours. It contains over 2g of omega-3 per fillet and is delicious served with fiery chilli, ginger & garlic or with a simple lemon & caper dressing.
Discover our best sea bass recipes.
2.5g of ALA per tablespoon (10g whole seeds) or 25g per 100g of ALA
A plant-based source of omega-3 – just one tablespoon of whole seeds provides 2.5g of ALA. Flaxseeds are small yellow-brown seeds, a bit like sesame seeds, that can be eaten whole or ground. Add flaxseeds to porridge, smoothies, pancakes and brownies, use in energy balls or drizzle flaxseed oil into a salad dressing – it's even higher in ALA.
9. Chia seeds
2.5g per tablespoon (14g) or 17.5g per 100g
Another plant-based source of omega-3, but one of the highest, chia seeds can be used as a great non-grain alternative to breakfast when soaked overnight in milk or yogurt to make chia pudding, added to smoothies or used to make a nutritious dessert. Just one tablespoon packs over 2g of omega-3 (the ALA variety) making it a better vegan source of this all-important essential fat.
Make the most of chia seeds with our easy recipes.
2.2g per small handful (30g serving) or 7.5g per 100g
Walnuts are the super nut of omega-3 and can easily be used as a snack, in bread, baking, sprinkled onto porridge or salads. Just one 30g serving will provide 2.2g of omega-3 (which will then be converted into ALA as it is a plant-based source). Walnut oil which can be used a salad dressing, is also a good plant source of omega-3.
Learn more about the health benefits of walnuts.
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Nicola Shubrook is a qualified nutritionist registered with the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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