Omega-3 fatty acids contain polyunsaturated fats that prevent a wide range of diseases. The three omega-3 fatty acids that are nutritionally important are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Most people do not get enough of omega-3 in their diet. A recent recommendation by the National Institute of Health in the US suggests that 2% of daily calorie intake must come from omega-3 foods. To get all the health benefits of this nutrient, we must consume the best sources of omega-3 on a daily basis.
Food Sources of Omega-3 (ALA – Short-Chain Acids)
ALA – the short-chain acid – is available in many daily foods. The problem is that it is found in oils that are also rich in omega-6 like soybean oil. The daily recommendation for ALA is 2.2g if your diet also contains fish and (4.4g) if you are vegetarian. The best sources of omega-3 for ALA are:
- Flax as flaxseed oil and flax meal and has low omega-6 content. A teaspoonful of ground flax meal or flaxseed will give you 100% of your daily ALA requirement.
- Walnuts and their oil extracts have significant amounts of omega-3. But 1g of ALA walnuts contains 5g of omega-6 fats.
- Canola Oils and food spreads like salad oil, mayonnaise and margarine have the best balance of ALA and omega-6 – 1g of ALA to 2g of omega-6.
- Legumes such as pinto beans and kidney beans contain 300-400g of ALA. Fruits like raspberries and blueberries contain small quantities of ALA.
- Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, basil and romaine lettuce contain good quantities of ALA.
The following are some of the new foods available in specialty stores that are high in ALA and have low levels of omega-6 fats.
- Special oils: Oils, jams and juices made from the seeds of blueberry, black raspberry, boysenberry, marionberry, cranberry and red raspberry are rich in ALA. Meanwhile researchers are considering the possibility of making ground meals like flax meal out berries like black raspberry that contains 600mg /ounce of ALA.
- Hemp – different from the marijuana plant – contains high levels of an uncommon omega-3 fatty acid – stearadonic acid. Foods containing hemp include hemp oil, flour, hemp nut butter and cereals.
- Chia Seeds: 2 tablespoons of chia seeds and sprouts provide 200% of daily ALA requirements.
- Butternuts or white walnuts are rich in omega-3.
- Seaweed is an excellent source of ALA and is used a lot in Japanese diet like sushi.
- Purslane is a wild plant that has the richest source of ALA and even EPA.
- Perilla seed oil also called purple mint or Chinese basil has high levels of ALA and low omega-6 fats.
Food Sources of Omega-3 (EPA and DHA – Long-Chain Acids)
The recommended daily intake of long-chain acids is 220mg each of DHA and EPA. This varies depending on people’s health. A diet rich only in ALA means that people fall short of their EPA and DHA needs. This is a problem for vegetarians as the best sources of omega-3 for long-chain acids come from seafood.
Seafood : A weekly diet of four fatty-fish meals can give you the best sources of omega-3 Initially, people believed that fatty fish like salmon, halibut, sardines, herring, and mackerel gave us good sources of omega-3 fats. The greatest worry for people is the nutritional value of fish since there are high levels of industrial chemicals such as dioxin, PCBs, strontium that is radio active, toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, arsenic and chromium and mercury found these waters.
With the fear of polluted water bodies, the attention turned to farm-raised fish. Contrary to industry predictions, even these fish contain high levels of poisons like PCBs. Overcrowding leads to injury to fish, and they are infected by parasites and given antibiotics and hormones to make them genetically modified. Farmed salmon are given chemicals to make them turn pink like wild salmon.
Meat and Poultry : Meats like chicken, beef, turkey and pork and eggs contain omega-3 fats. However, most farm-raised animals have a low content since they eat grains that are low in omega-3. Eat free-range or pasture fed animals that consume a varied diet which contain more omega-3 fats.
Seaweed and Mosses : Wild mosses, liverworts and ferns, seaweed and algae have plenty of EPA and are a great alternative for those who are vegetarians and seafood haters.
Food Supplements : It is recommended that those who hate seafood and are vegetarians eat omega-3 enriched foods that will give them the required EPA and DHA quantities or take a food supplement. Here are some tips that will help you choose the right supplement:
- Do not buy supplements with omega-6 and omega-9 fats.
- Do not buy short-chain supplements that can be got easily from flax.
- Avoid borage oil and evening primrose oil that have high omega-6 content
- Non-vegetarians can choose a fish-oil supplement with a combined dose of 650-3000mg of EPA and DHA.
- Make sure the supplement also contains vitamin E – tocopherol and balanced quantities of EPA and DHA
- Vegetarians can buy algae based supplements
- If you cannot swallow pills buy flavored liquid fish oil supplements
- Kid friendly omega-3 fats are available as pudding-style liquids, powders and chewable capsules.
Having studied the Inuit tribe in Greenland, researchers have concluded that they consumed marine food like krill rich in EPA and DHA and hence they were free of heart diseases despite also eating a high fat diet. They also discovered that foods enriched with ALA did not give the same benefit.
Now that we have seen the various food sources of omega-3, and the issues surrounding environment pollution, we must know what the best source really is. Some experts believe that the safest choice that is also affordable is good quality krill oil taken on a regular basis. Of this, Antarctic krill oil is said to be the best source that contains omega-3 and antioxidants not found in other fish oil supplements. Also, krill is a tiny fish and does not have time to accumulate too much of toxins.
If you cannot get krill oil then adopt a few precautions like – do not limit yourself to one fish variety, but eat several to minimize exposure to mercury and increase intake of omega-3. Go through all EPA Fish Advisories at their website and check FDA recommendations. Prepare fish to reduce contaminants by removing skin, fat and internal organs that will accumulate contaminants.
Omega-3 offers many health benefits and thus it is very important to ensure their optimal inclusion in diet. Not all foods are rich sources of Omega 3 and thus one should choose best sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as, hemp, flax and animal based EPA and DHA.