Omega-3 fatty acids are touted as some of the most important nutrients for our bodies. But what makes these healthy fats so important? And how can we incorporate more omega-3 foods into our diets?
Women’s health expert Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, CLEC, CPT, explains that polyunsaturated fats are multitaskers. “Omega 3 fatty acids play many important roles in our bodies,” says Manaker. “Omega-3 fatty acids provide anti-inflammatory benefits, and they are linked to cognitive health, heart health, and other factors of our health.”
Omega-3s function in a few different ways, playing an essential role in the physiology of our cells by providing structure within the cell membranes, and supporting healthy cellular activity — especially in our eyes and brains, where they are highly concentrated. Omega-3 fatty acids are also an energy source, supporting healthy system function throughout the body in the form of calories. The cardiovascular system, in particular, benefits from these essential fats, which is why omega-3s are often recommended as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Because the body cannot produce its own omega-3 fatty acids, however, they must be derived from dietary sources. Luckily, they are found in a variety of food sources.
“DHA omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in oily coldwater fish and other seafood choices [and] in smaller quantities in eggs,” says Manaker. For ALA omega-3s, which are a slightly different form from DHA and EPA, she says to look for plant sources. “ALA omega-3 fatty acids are plant-based and are found in foods like walnuts.”
Here are seven other foods that are rich in omega-3s to include as part of a well-rounded diet.
Salmon is perhaps the most famous of the omega-3-rich foods. The fatty cold-water fish features high concentrations of omega-3s, and it is a versatile ingredient, lending itself well to smoking, curing, grilling, and even sushi.
“As a registered dietitian, I recommend looking for salmon from Chile because it’s particularly high in powerful omega-3 fats, low-mercury, and considered the best choice [by the FDA],” says Bianca Tamburello, RDN.
2. Hemp seeds
Featuring the ideal 3-to-1 ratio balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, hemp seeds can be a great addition to your diet to support cardiovascular health and general wellness. Add hemp protein powder to smoothies and hemp seed oil to salads or dips.
You can also look for hemp-based snacks, like these Functional Protein Bars from Resist Nutrition, which offer a nice grab-and-go option packed with healthy fats and nutrition.
For an omega-3-rich food that can really do it all, look no further than the avocado. Avocados are rich in omega-3s and folate, both of which support healthy brain function. While the creamy green fruit is delicious as a snack all its own, it’s also a fantastic ingredient for a variety of other dishes.
Guacamole is always a crowd-pleaser, teaming up the avocado with tomato, cilantro, lime, and salt. Avocados are also a fabulous topper for tacos, soups, and even steak. They also make a creamy base for baked goods, chocolate treats, smoothies, and more.
4. Nuts and nut butter
Walnuts are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3s, making them a great addition to a well-rounded diet. Keep walnuts on hand for topping yogurt or oatmeal, or making homemade granola.
You can also look for nut butter like peanut butter that has omega-3 fatty acids added. Brainiac Brain Butter peanut butter spread, for example, features a whopping 155 milligrams of DHA and EPA omega-3s per serving.
5. Seaweed, algae, and kelp
Algae and seaweed are known to be important plant-based sources of omega-3, making them an excellent choice for practicing vegetarians or vegans, as they are one of the few known plant-based foods with both DHA and EPA. Aside from sushi, which uses nori, or seaweed sheets, there are other simple ways to incorporate these foods into your diet, including as dried snacks, or as supplements like chlorella and spirulina, which can easily be added to smoothies or protein shakes.
Tahini is a smooth, nutty paste made from omega-rich sesame seeds. Just one tablespoon of tahini has 1.5 grams of omega-3 fats, plus another 1.7 grams of omega-6 fats, making it a relatively balanced choice in terms of omega fats. Tahini is a primary ingredient in hummus and can be used for a variety of other dips, dressings, and sauces.
7. Grass-fed milk
Get more omega-3s with a tall glass of milk. A recent national study found that cows fed a diet of totally organic grass and legumes produced milk with elevated levels of omega-3 and CLA, creating a more ideal balance of nutritional fats.
Organic Valley Grassmilk, for example, feeds its cows a diverse blend of grasses, herbs, and broadleaf pasture plants, and as a result, its Grassmilk product has 147% more omega-3 than non-organic, non-grass-fed whole milk.
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