Getting Your Omega-3s When Fish Isn't on the Menu
There are few culinary delights that offer more in great taste and healthy nutrition than fresh catch-of-the-day. Fish is a major source of omega-3s, a type of essential fatty acid that's nothing short of a nutritional powerhouse. But if fish is not on the menu, are there alternative sources for omega-3s?
Let's find out.
What Are Omega-3s?
The human body doesn't produce omega-3s, so we have to get them from our diet or as a supplement. Because we can't make them ourselves, they are classified as essential fatty acids.
There are three main types of omega-3s:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). This type of omega-3 has multiple uses, including reducing pain and swelling. It can also prevent blood from clotting easily.
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This is the most important of the omega-3 fatty acids. It's a critical structural component of the brain, the retina in your eyes, and other body parts.
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). This is the most common type of omega-3 fatty acid found in your diet. It's used mostly for energy in the body, but it can also be converted into the other omega-3 forms, EPA and DHA.
Now that we know what omega-3s are let's take a look at why they're good for us.
The Goodness of Omega-3s
Few nutrients have been studied more thoroughly than omega-3 fatty acids. The importance of omega-3s cannot be stressed enough. They provide powerful health benefits to your brain and body. Here are some of the many health advantages omega-3s have to offer:
- Omega-3s lower your likelihood of depression and anxiety and can improve symptoms in those already struggling with these conditions.
- Studies show a reduced risk of macular degeneration with adequate omega-3 intake.
- Omega-3s are crucial during pregnancy for brain growth and proper development in the infant.
- Improved heart health, including decreased risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Omega-3s reduce symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children.
- Decreased mental decline associated with aging and reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
These are only a few of the multiple benefits of getting adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids on a daily basis.
Now we know what they are and why they're good for us. Let's take a look at the best sources for omega-3s.
Sources for Omega-3
Seafood and fatty fish are the best sources of omega-3s. High amounts of omega-3s are found in cold-water fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring. Shellfish and fish with a lower fat content, such as cod, bass, and tilapia, have lower levels of omega-3s.
Don't like fish? Not to worry; there are some excellent plant sources you can turn to.
Plant Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acid
- Flaxseeds. This is the richest plant source for ALA-type omega-3. You can get 57% of the daily recommended value of ALA omega-3 by mixing one tablespoon of flaxseed oil or two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds into your food.
- Canola oil. A tablespoon of canola oil provides 11% of your daily ALA-type omega-3 requirement. This should be used in moderation because it is high in calories.
- Mixed greens. An excellent source for omega-3s is a salad of spinach, kale, and other dark leafy greens. One cup provides 56% of the daily value you need, so load up on two cups, and you're good to go for the day.
- Soybeans or tofu. 7% of your daily omega-3 needs can be had in a cup of cooked soybeans, in a tablespoon of soybean oil, or a half-cup of tofu.
- Walnuts. These yummy nuts have a lot going for them. You can get 7% of your omega-3 requirements in a quarter cup.
- Seaweed. Seaweed not only supplies a significant amount of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, but it's also a good source of iodine and other vital nutrients.
- Chia seeds. One of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 around, chia seeds provide over 300% of what your body needs each day in a one-ounce serving. They're also high in fiber. Add them to yogurt, salads, and drinks (they make a great banana and chia seed smoothie.)
- Wild Rice. The name is misleading; wild rice isn't actually rice but grass. It's packed with all sorts of good nutrients, including a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Wild rice also contains twice the fiber and protein of brown rice.
- Hemp seeds. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds contain an impressive 2.605 g of ALA-type omega-3 fatty acid. They're also a good source of magnesium, protein, zinc, and iron. Slightly sweet, hemp seeds make a great addition to snack bars, salads, granola, oats, and smoothies.
- Brussels sprouts. Known as a good source for fiber, vitamin K, and vitamin C, Brussels sprouts are also an excellent source of omega-3s. A half-cup of raw Brussels sprouts provides about 44 mg of ALA-type omega-3s. Cook the Brussels sprouts, and you'll get three times as much omega-3 fatty acids in each half-cup serving. This versatile omega-3 source is a delicious addition to any meal, whether you roast, steam, blanch, or stir-fry them.
- Algal oil. This is a type of oil derived from algae and is one of the few plant-based sources of both DHA and EPA omega-3s. Algal oil usually is available in soft gel form but can be purchased in liquid form. The liquid form is usually added to drinks or smoothies to get a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
Whether you follow the guidelines of the American Heart Association or the World Health Organization, and when you discuss your optimum dosage of omega-3 fatty acids with your primary healthcare provider, you'll probably come away with the same recommendation: eat fatty fish at least twice per week.
If fish is not on your menu twice a week, either the foods listed above or an omega-3 supplement should do the trick. Good choices in the supplement department are fish, krill, and algal oils.
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