Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods, such as fish and flaxseed, and dietary supplements, such as fish oil. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood.
ALA is an essential fatty acid, meaning that your body can’t make it, so you must get it from the foods and beverages you consume. Your body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA, but only in very small amounts. Therefore, getting EPA and DHA from foods (and dietary supplements if you take them) is the only practical way to increase levels of these omega-3 fatty acids in your body.
Omega-3s are important components of the membranes that surround each cell in your body. DHA levels are especially high in retina (eye), brain, and sperm cells. Omega-3s also provide calories to give your body energy and have many functions in your heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system (the network of hormone-producing glands).
What Are Omega 3 Rich Foods
Mackerel (4,107 mg per serving)
Mackerel are small, fatty fish. In Western countries, they are commonly smoked and eaten as whole fillets. Mackerel are incredibly rich in nutrients — a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving packs 200% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin B12 and 100% for selenium. What’s more, these fish are delicious and require little preparation.
Omega-3 content: 4,107 mg in one piece of salted mackerel, or 5,134 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Salmon (4,123 mg per serving)
Salmon is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It contains high-quality protein and a variety of nutrients, including large amounts of vitamin D, selenium, and B vitamins. Studies show that people who regularly eat fatty fish, such as salmon, have a lower risk of diseases like heart disease, dementia, and depression.
Omega-3 content: 4,123 mg in half a fillet of cooked, farmed Atlantic salmon, or 2,260 mg in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
Cod liver oil (2,682 mg per serving)
Cod liver oil is more of a supplement than a food. As the name implies, it is the oil extracted from the livers of codfish. This oil is not only high in omega-3 fatty acids but also loaded with vitamins D and A, with a single tablespoon providing 170% and 453% of the RDIs, respectively.
Therefore, taking just one tablespoon of cod liver oil more than satisfies your need for three incredibly important nutrients. However, don’t take more than one tablespoon at a time, as too much vitamin A can be harmful.
Omega-3 content: 2,682 mg per tablespoon
Herring (946 mg per serving)
Herring is a medium-sized, oily fish. It is often cold-smoked, pickled, or pre-cooked, then sold as a canned snack. Smoked herring is popular breakfast food in countries like England, where it’s served with eggs and called kippers. A standard smoked fillet contains almost 100% of the RDI for vitamin D and selenium and 221% of the RDI for vitamin B12.
Omega-3 content: 946 mg per medium fillet (40 grams) of kippered Atlantic herring, or 2,366 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
Oysters (370 mg per serving)
Shellfish are among the most nutritious foods you can eat. Oysters contain more zinc than any other food on the planet. Just 6 raw eastern oysters (3 ounces or 85 grams) pack 293% of the RDI for zinc, 70% for copper, and 575% for vitamin B12. Oysters can be eaten as an appetizer, snack, or whole meal. Raw oysters are a delicacy in many countries.
Omega-3 content: 370 mg in 6 raw, eastern oysters, or 435 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
Sardines (2,205 mg per serving)
Sardines are very small, oily fish that are commonly eaten as a starter, snack, or delicacy. They’re highly nutritious, especially when eaten whole. They contain almost every nutrient your body needs. 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of drained sardines provide over 200% of the RDI for vitamin B12, 24% for vitamin D, and 96% for selenium.
Omega-3 content: 2,205 mg per cup (149 grams) of canned Atlantic sardines, or 1,480 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
Anchovies (951 mg per serving)
Anchovies are tiny, oily fish often bought dried or canned. Usually eaten in very small portions, anchovies can be rolled around capers, stuffed in olives, or used as pizza and salad toppings. Because of their strong taste, they are also used to flavor many dishes and sauces, including Worcestershire sauce, remoulade, and Caesar dressing. Anchovies are a great source of niacin and selenium, and boned anchovies are a decent source of calcium.
Omega-3 content: 951 mg per can (2 ounces, or 45 grams) of canned European anchovies, or 2,113 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
Caviar (1,086 mg per serving)
Caviar consists of fish eggs or roe. Widely regarded as a luxurious food item, caviar is most often used in small quantities as a starter, taster, or garnish. Caviar is a good source of choline and a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 content: 1,086 mg per tablespoon (14.3 grams), or 6,786 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
Flax seeds (2,350 mg per serving)
Flax seeds are small brown or yellow seeds. They are often ground, milled, or used to make oil. These seeds are by far the richest whole-food source of the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Therefore, flaxseed oil is often used as an omega-3 supplement.
Flax seeds are also a good source of fiber, magnesium, and other nutrients. They have a great omega-6 to omega-3 ratio compared with most oily plant seeds.
Omega-3 content: 2,350 mg per tablespoon (10.3 grams) of whole seeds, or 7,260 mg per tablespoon (13.6 grams) of oil.
Chia seeds (5,060 mg per serving)
Chia seeds are incredibly nutritious — they’re rich in manganese, selenium, magnesium, and a few other nutrients. A standard 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of chia seeds contains 5 grams of protein, including all eight essential amino acids.
Omega-3 content: 5,060 mg per ounce (28 grams)
Walnuts (2,570 mg per serving)
Walnuts are very nutritious and loaded with fiber. They also contain high amounts of copper, manganese, vitamin E, as well as important plant compounds. Make sure not to remove the skin, as it packs most of the walnuts’ phenol antioxidants, which offer important health benefits.
Omega-3 content: 2,570 mg per ounce (28 grams), or about 14 walnut halves
Soybeans (1,241 mg per serving)
Soybeans are a good source of fiber and vegetable protein. They are also a good source of other nutrients, including riboflavin, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, and potassium. However, soybeans are also very high in omega-6 fatty acids. Researchers have hypothesized that eating too much omega-6 may cause inflammation.
Omega-3 content: 670 mg in a 1/2 cup (47 grams) of dry roasted soybeans, or 1,443 mg per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
How much omega-3s do I need?
Experts have not established recommended amounts for omega-3 fatty acids, except for ALA. Average daily recommended amounts for ALA are listed below in grams (g). The amount you need depends on your age and sex.
- Birth to 12 months 0.5 g
- Children 1–3 years 0.7 g
- Children 4–8 years 0.9 g
- Boys 9–13 years 1.2 g
- Girls 9–13 years 1.0 g
- Teen boys 14–18 years 1.6 g
- Teen girls 14–18 years 1.1 g
- Men 1.6 g
- Women 1.1 g
- Pregnant teens and women 1.4 g
- Breastfeeding teens and women 1.3 g
What are some effects of omega-3s on health?
Scientists are studying omega-3s to understand how they affect health. People who eat fish and other seafood have a lower risk of several chronic diseases. But it is not clear whether these health benefits come from simply eating these foods or from the omega-3s in these foods. Here are some examples of what the research has shown.