When we talk about foods that are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, the first ones that typically come to mind are fish; more specifically, cold water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines. But there are numerous non-fish omega-3 foods that can help you fulfill your need for the healthy fats found in these and other fish.
are omega-3s and why should I care?
What’s so special about omega-3s? The human body can make
most other fats, but that’s not true for omega-3s. This means you must get
these healthy fats from food.
Before we talk about how special omega-3s are, let’s name
the players: EPA, DHA, and ALA.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are present in cold water fatty fish
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in
plant foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, leafy green vegetables, and flaxseed.
Omega-3s are special because they are a major part of
structure of cell membranes. These fats have an impact on cell receptors in the
cell membranes and also have an effect on genetic function. This suggests
omega-3s are intimately involved in activities such as producing hormones as
well as helping to prevent heart disease or control eczema, lupus, and
One issue with non-fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids is
that conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is very limited. Both EPA and DHA have
been associated with an ability to reduce inflammation, support brain health
and development, ease depressive symptoms, and prevent chronic diseases such as
arthritis and heart disease.
However, the ability of ALA to do the same is not as
established. If we assume ALA has these qualities, we then must face the fact
that only about 1 percent of ALA is transformed to physiologically effective
levels of DHA and EPA. Yes, these are challenges for those who want to get
their omega-3s from non-fish sources. But there are options.
Non-fish omega-3 foods
The best non-fish food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are listed here. Keep in mind that the recommended adequate intakes of ALA is 1,100 mg for women and 1,600 mg for men, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- Algal (algae) oil is extracted from
algae and contains significant amounts of both EPA and DHA. Therefore, for
those who want to avoid any animal-based sources of these two important
omega-3s, algal oil could be your answer. An advantage of algal oil vs fish oil
is sustainability, since no fish are killed to secure algal oil. Depending on
the supplement, you can get between 400 and 500 mg EPA and DHA.
- Brussel sprouts, when cooked, provide
about 135 mg of omega-3s in each half cup.
- Canola and soy oils offer a range of
levels of omega-3, about 900 to 1,000 mg per tablespoon
- Chia seeds provide 4,915 mg omega-3s in
just one ounce
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are a good
match. One ounce of seeds contains 6,388 mg of ALA
- Hemp seeds are a terrific source,
coming in at about 6,000 mg per ounce of seeds
- Perilla seed oil is popular in Korean
cuisine. One tablespoon contains nearly 9,000 mg of ALA. It is also available
as a supplement in capsule form.
- Pumpkin seeds are a bit low on the
chart, only 50 mg of omega-3s, but they are great to add to a nut and seed mix
- Walnuts and walnut oil can be a good choice.
A one-ounce serving of walnuts provides 2,542 mg of omega-3s while the oil
provides 1,404 mg
Beware of claims that some chicken and eggs contains
significant amounts of omega-3s because the birds have been fed high amounts of
flaxseed. One example is a brand of omega-3 enriched chicken claiming to
contain about 1,200 mg of omega-3s per serving. However, research indicates you
get that amount of the healthy fats only if you eat the thighs with skin, not
any other part of the chicken.
If eating cold water fatty fish twice a week isn’t on your to-do list and fish oil supplements aren’t your cup of tea, there are other ways to get healthy omega-3s in your diet. The options provided here also can complement any other intake of omega-3s you choose, including supplements.
Link R. 7 plant sources of omega-3s. Healthline2017 Jul 17
National Institutes of Health. Omega-3
Penn State Hershey. Alpha-linolenic
Plowe K. 5 omega-3 packed recipes that aren’t fish. Livestrong
2019 Aug 16
Turner H. Comparing algae-based DHA+EPA supplements. Today’s
Wicks L. What is omega-3 chicken—and should I be eating it? Cooking
Light 2018 Nov 9