A healthy dose of omega-3s


By Leanne McCrate



Dear Dietitian,

My father had heart disease, so I am careful about my diet. I eat right and exercise. I understand how important omega-3 fatty acids are for the heart, but I don’t like salmon, and some of the other fish high in omega-3s are expensive. Do you have any recommendations?

Thank you,

Teresa

Dear Teresa,

I commend you on being proactive in your healthy lifestyle. Salmon isn’t one of my favorites, either. Various types of fish and seafood contain omega-s, though not as much as salmon. With today’s inflation, fish and seafood are expensive, but you can shop around for lower prices.

There are three primary omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Most of the studies that link omega-3s to heart health are EPA and DHA. Small amounts of ALA (2 to 5%) can be converted to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are found in animal products, the highest amounts in fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines. ALA is found in plant foods, like flax seeds, tofu, and plant oils, such as canola oil.

Omega-3s are being studied for their effect on several diseases, such as depression, macular degeneration, and autoimmune disorders. Still, the most compelling results have been found on their impact on preventing heart disease.

While there is no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for omega-3s, many professional organizations have issued guidelines, but they vary widely. The lowest amount recommended is 0.25 grams per day. The American Heart Association recommends eating non-fried oily fish twice weekly to get your omega-3s (1). Another recommendation is to consume eight ounces of variable seafood each week. The following table presents the amount of omega-3s in fish and seafood (2).

Food, 3 ounces, cooked Grams Omega-3/Serving

Herring, Atlantic

1.71
Trout, rainbow, wild 0.84
Shrimp 0.24
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed 1.83
Cod, Pacific 0.14
Oysters, eastern, wild 0.67
Tilapia 0.15
Tuna, light, canned in water 0.19

ALA is an essential nutrient, meaning our bodies need it for good health but cannot make it, so we must obtain it in our diet. Many plant foods are rich sources of ALA. There are creative ways to add these foods to your omega-3 profile. Chia seeds add a nice crunch to smoothies or oatmeal. Ground flax seeds bring added nutrients to your morning cereal or afternoon yogurt. Tofu is another rich source of ALA. Use it as your protein source in stir fry, or add it to your favorite fruit and make ice cream. Edamame has gained popularity in recent years. It makes a healthy snack; just roast it in the oven with a pinch of salt. It can also be added to salad as a protein source or served as a side dish. Bon apétit!

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian

References 1. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids (23 March 2017) https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids

2. Omega-3 fatty acids (1 October 2020) https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids

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By Leanne McCrate

Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at [email protected]

Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at [email protected]