What do salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts have in common? They are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that have been shown to help lower triglycerides and lower the risk of heart disease. It’s labeled an essential nutrient, meaning your body doesn’t produce them on their own and therefore, must be consumed through food.
There are three main types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is mainly found in nuts, seeds and plant oils, while EPA and DHA are commonly found in fish and seafood. Both are important, but while most people get plenty of ALA, it can be more of a struggle to get EPA and DHA. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating at least 8 ounces of fish per week, or 8-12 ounces per week for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Cold water fatty fish, such as salmon, Atlantic mackerel, albacore or skipjack tuna, herring and sardines, have higher amounts of omega-3s. What about mercury levels? These are all listed as “best” or “good choices” with lower levels of mercury content by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Research on fish oil supplements have had mixed results and do not support enough evidence to recommend them. Fish oil supplements can interact with some medications, including blood thinners, so tell your physician if you are taking them.
National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
Food and Drug Administration. Advice about eating fish.
About the Author
Jenna Smith is a Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Smith uses her experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist to deliver impactful information and cutting-edge programs to Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties and beyond.