Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

This information provided by permission from Nutrition Health Net.

Dietary Sources of Essential Fats EPA, DHA and ALA

The three most nutritionally beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These 3 fatty acids are essential because your body cannot make them and they must be consumed in the diet. A research study published in The Journal of The American Dietetic Association in July, 2008 suggests these omega-3 fatty acids are better absorbed by the body when obtained from food rather than from omega-3 supplements. Although fatty fish is known as the best source of omega-3s, there are many other foods that contain these health boosting fatty acids.

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for the development and function of the brain, eyes and nerves. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet promotes heart health by lowering cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. They have also be shown to: reduce blood clotting in the arteries and protect from hardening of the arteries; reduce inflammation and stiff joints in those with arthritis; improve symptoms of depression; improve blood sugar levels in those with diabetes; and reduce the risk of developing certain diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart and circulation problems and depression.

Food Sources of EPA and DHA

EPA and DHA omega-3s are mainly found in fish, especially cold-water, high-fat varieties such as:

  • Albacore tuna
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Atlantic herring
  • Swordfish
  • Lake trout

Sources of Alpha-linolenic Acid

Approximately 35 percent of ALA found in food is converted to EPA and DHA. Good sources of ALA include:

  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Soybeans and soybean oil
  • Walnuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Soy nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Hemp seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Omega-3 fatty acids are not only found in fish, nuts, seeds and oils. Fruits and vegetables that are good sources of omega-3s include: kidney beans, navy beans, tofu, winter and summer squash, certain berries such as raspberries and strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, romaine lettuce, and collard greens. Wheat germ and free-range beef and poultry (along with their eggs) are also good sources of omega-3s.

If foods rich in ALA are the only dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, it is important to limit saturated and trans fats in the diet as both can interfere with the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.

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