You may think of omega-3-rich foods as being some of the best for brain health — and you’re certainly not wrong! But, that’s not all this powerhouse nutrient is good for. Aside from benefiting cognitive and mental health, omega-3s have science-backed benefits for improving heart health, immunity, healthy skin, and aging. Plus, they help to reduce oxidative stress and whole-body inflammation. And considering they’re an essential fatty acid, our body can’t make them — meaning, we must obtain omega-3 foods from our diet!
The good news is that loading up on omega-3 foods is simple and delicious. And although fish is a well-known source, there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian-rich options too. In fact, there are multiple types of omega-3s! But, not all sources are created equal. So, let’s break down the healthiest sources and all their health benefits. Read on for all you need to know!
The Three Types of Omega-3s
Though all omega 3’s are polyunsaturated fats, there are actually three unique types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is commonly considered the plant-based source, as it is found in a variety of plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and vegetables. EPA and DHA, on the other hand, are considered marine omega-3s, as they are primarily found in fish. While all are important, ALA omega-3s aren’t absorbed as well as DHA and EPA. Therefore, if you’re not a fish eater, it’s important to load up on a variety of ALA-rich foods or supplement with a DHA or EPA fish oil to meet your needs.
The Health Benefits of Omega-3s
Omega 3-rich foods have been shown to boost brain health and heart health, fight inflammation, reduce the risk for chronic disease, and reduce early signs of aging. Impressive, I know!
According to research, omega-3s can help to:
- Prevent and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Support fetal brain development
- Reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels
- Boost HDL (good) cholesterol
- Reduce chronic inflammation
- Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Boost brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline
- Improve sleep quality
- Protect skin against sun damage
- Improve the skin barrier for dry, irritated skin
And, obtaining all of these benefits could be as simple as loading up on omega-3-rich foods!
The Healthiest Omega-3 Seafood Sources
From salmon to trout, here are the healthiest DHA and EPA seafood sources of omega-3s.
Aside from being deliciously tasty, salmon is one of the healthiest foods. This marine superfood is an excellent source of omega-3s, which has been shown to decrease inflammation, support weight loss, and support immune health. A 100-gram serving contains 2.2 grams of omega 3s.
Mild in taste and rich in protein and healthy fats, mackerel is one of the healthiest sources of omega-3s. A 3.5-ounce (100 grams) serving contains 19 grams of proteins (including all essential amino acids), more than your daily recommended needs of vitamin B12, selenium, and 4,580 mg of EPA and DHA.
This lesser-known fish deserves a shoutout, especially when it comes to omega-3s. Another fish mild in taste, it’s great for those who don’t love that ‘fishy’ flavor. In addition to its rich levels of omega 3-s, trout is full of protein (20 grams per serving!), B vitamins, calcium, and magnesium.
This white fish is flaky in texture, mild in taste, and delicious in a variety of meals! A leaner fish, cod is less abundant in omega-3s than fatty fish like salmon or sardines. Nevertheless, it’s full of protein, minerals, and vitamins, and an excellent choice.
Next time you see oysters on the menu, you’ll want to give them a good shuck! Aside from being a healthy source of omegas, oysters are low in calories, rich in protein, and the highest source of dietary zinc — one serving contains nearly 300% of your daily needs! As for omega-3s, a mere half dozen oysters contains 329 mg of EPA and DHA.
Sardines are high in heart-healthy omega 3s, rich in protein, and low in saturated fat and calories. To help balance their fishy taste, try enjoying them with a good squeeze of lemon! Delicious over a salad or stirred into a lemon pasta plate.
The Best Omega-3 Plant Foods
Vegan and vegetarian dieters, good news — ALA omega-3s are most plentiful in plants! And despite not being as readily absorbed by the body, they’re still a vital source of omega-3s and full of nutrients. Here are some of the top sources.
Small but mighty, chia seeds are one of the healthiest foods. They’re rich in fiber, protein, omega-3s, and a whole host of minerals (including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus). A mere two teaspoons fulfill your daily needs for essential ALA omega-3 fatty acids! Try stirring them into your smoothie or baked goods, making a yummy chia pudding, or enjoying them on top of your oat or yogurt bowl.
With high levels of plant-based protein and heart-healthy omega-3s, hemp seeds are another seed you’ll want to include in your diet. They have a mild nutty flavor, and despite being a plant-based source of protein, contain all nine essential amino acids! Plus, their high omega content has been shown to benefit skin health for conditions such as dry and itchy skin.
Blend them into homemade nut milk, sprinkle them on top of your salad or toast, or add them to baked goods, granola, or smoothies.
Another omega-rich seed that deserves a shoutout — flax seeds! These nutty seeds are full of health benefits and have been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, balance blood sugar, and even support weight loss. Rich in fiber and ALA omega 3s, these super-seeds will lower inflammation, support gut health, and increase satiety.
Add ground flax to your smoothie or yogurt bowl, or try flax eggs in place of traditional eggs in baked goods or recipes.
Seaweed and other marine greens are projected to be a top trending food in 2023! And not surprisingly, these underwater greens are jam-packed with nutrients (including ALA omega 3s). Considering they’re a healthy source of omegas, seaweed and other marine algae (such as chlorella and spirulina) have been shown to benefit lipid and glucose metabolism, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease.
Did you know a single (one-ounce) serving of walnuts is enough to fulfill your total daily omega-3 needs?! That’s right — known for benefiting heart and brain health, walnuts are some of the most nutritious plant-based foods. Walnuts are rich in many minerals, such as manganese, iron, copper, and zinc. Plus, they’ve been shown to lower inflammation, benefit gut health, and even aid weight loss by boosting satiety.
If you love rice, you’ll be happy to know wild rice is a great omega-rich option! Though, it’s not actually a grain — wild rice is actually considered a grass! It resembles rice in texture and flavor, but it’s much more nutrient-dense. In fact, it’s rich in antioxidants (up to 30 times more than white rice!), contains twice as much protein, and has been shown to have heart-healthy benefits.
How to Obtain More Omegas
With so many good-for-you benefits, it’s easy to see why you should load up your plate with omega-3s! And whether you’re plant-based or an omnivore, getting your fair share is simple. Sprinkle hemp or flax seeds into your smoothie or breakfast bowl, make a chia seed pudding for a snack, or top your salad or sandwich with canned or grilled salmon. For more recipe ideas, head to the recipe section on the FitOn app! The omega-rich options are endless.