13 Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Their Benefits

Dieser Artikel basiert auf wissenschaftlichen Studien

Omega-3 Fatty Acids | Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 | Health Benefits | How much per Day | Deficiency | Foods High in Omega-3 | Top 13 Foods | Conclusion | FAQ | Studies

Omega-3 fatty acids have been praised as miracle nutrients. Science has connected the consumption of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids to reduce various chronic diseases.

Get to know which are the best omega-3 foods and why!

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Definition

Omega-3 fatty acids are long fat chains, which belong to the polyunsaturated fatty acids. Also, the term omega-3 fatty acid is derived from the chemical structure.

Because the body cannot produce them, they are called essential fatty acids.

Three primary omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively researched concerning nutrition:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Alpha-linolenic acid occurs in plants, vegetable oils, and animal products, which nourish themselves from ALA-rich food.

As it is the mother of omega-3 fatty acids, our body can convert small amounts of alpha-linolenic acid to EPA, DHA, and DPA (Zhao et al 20041).

Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) is another omega-3 fatty acid that researchers recently found to offer health benefits.

DHA, EPA, and DPA are found in fish and other seafood.

In nature, fats are a combination of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Hence, there are no pure saturated or unsaturated fats in natural foods.

Fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms to which hydrogen atoms attach themselves:

  • Saturated fatty acids: All free places are filled with hydrogen atoms
  • Unsaturated fatty acids: There are free places where a double bond of carbon atoms occurs instead of another hydrogen atom.

Since saturated fatty acids are more difficult to damage, they are more suitable for frying.

Damage can have adverse health effects, since fatty acids are the essential building blocks of our cell membranes.

But unsaturated fatty acids are not unhealthy in general. Accordingly, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids can yield outstanding health benefits.

Nevertheless, pure omega-3 fatty acids should not be directly exposed to heat, light, air, or pressure.

However, in their natural form, such as walnuts, omega-3 fatty acid foods are robust, so you don’t need to worry.

On the contrary, concentrated omega-3 oils are very heat-sensitive, such as flaxseed oil.

raw foods with omega-3 fatty acids should be prepared freshly

Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Since there are both essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself, you must consume them in the form of food.

But what do the terms omega-3 and omega-6 stand for?

Once again, we are talking about the chemical structure, since omega refers to one end of the chain of carbon atoms. Moreover, the number indicates the position of the first unsaturated carbon atom:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: The first double bond is located on the 3rd carbon atom from the omega end since it is not saturated with a hydrogen atom.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: The first double bond is located at the 6th atom of the carbon chain.

As the name only gives information about the structure, one cannot say that either all omega-3 or all omega-6 fatty acids are healthy or unhealthy.

Nevertheless, our western society has a severe problem when it comes to the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.

Research suggests an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of not more than 2:1 for good health (Okuyama et al. 19962).

However, average Americans have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 17:1 (Singh et al. 20103).

And such severe imbalance can permanently set the body on fire through uncontrolled inflammation.

Due to the reckless consumption of refined carbohydrates, sugar, and industrial omega-6 vegetable oils, the Western Pattern Diet (WPD) fosters inflammation.

Nevertheless, numerous foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the epidemic of high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, allergies, and autoimmune diseases (Simopoulos 20024).

6 Benefits of Foods High in Omega-3

So, since the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids has a significant impact on health, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are essential throughout our lifetime.

After all, our bodies do not produce them themselves. Moreover, humans have very likely developed with a diet that has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1.

According to studies, even an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 4:1 can reduce overall mortality by 70%.

In addition to the following benefits, a 2:1 ratio can even reduce the risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, arthritis, and asthma (Simopoulos 20025).

1. Anti-Inflammatory

Our consumption of too many omega-6 fatty acids and too little omega-3 fatty acids leads to chronic inflammation in the body, which accelerates the aging process.

For example, these inflammations can manifest themselves as joint pain, heart disease, or dementia.

Nevertheless, in these cases, the foods high in omega-3 fatty acids at the bottom of our list can help.

2. Brain Health

Studies show that mothers with low DHA levels are more likely to have children with an underdeveloped nervous system and cognitive disorders (Innis 20086).

Furthermore, in older adults, omega-3 fatty acids can promote the formation of new neurons in the brain (Cutuli 20177).

Accordingly, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation in the brain and stimulate the central nervous system (Kidd 20078).

With this in mind, the benefits for brain health are derived from the effects of DHA and EPA. While DHA is essential for cognitive function, EPA regulates mood (Laye et al. 20189).

3. Insulin

One of the biggest problems of the Western Pattern Diet is chronically elevated insulin levels. However, the increased intake of ALA can reduce this problem.

Similarly, the improved intake of DHA and EPA, such as from fatty fish, can counteract insulin resistance.

Thus, as a consequence of high insulin levels and a harbinger of diabetes, insulin resistance has already reached pandemic proportions.

In contrast, foods containing EPA and DHA can also help to increase insulin levels that are too low. For example, in the case of type 1 diabetes or highly advanced type 2 diabetes (DiNicolantonio et al. 201910).

4. Heart Health

Various heart diseases represent the lion’s share of the causes of death in the western world.

Since studies show that they can reduce this risk, the importance of omega-3 foods in our diet is probably beyond question (Weitz et al. 201011).

5. Muscles

A significant intake of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can also increase your lean mass by increasing muscle protein synthesis and counteracting muscle degeneration (Smith et al. 201112).

Hence, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids become more important with age. Furthermore, they are crucial for athletes.

omega-3 fatty acids support muscle gain

6. Weight Loss

Long-chain marine omega-3 fatty acids increase the basal metabolic rate. Therefore, they help with weight loss (Hulbert et al. 199913).

As a result, the body burns more calories than usual, even when relaxing.

Accordingly, one study has shown that overweight women can significantly reduce weight and body mass index by supplementing EPA and DHA (Kunesova et al. 200614).

Also, these omega-3 fatty acids reduce the accumulation of dangerous visceral fat (Belzung et al. 199315).

How Much Omega-3 per Day?

Although various health organizations have published their opinions on omega-3 dosages per day, these opinions vary.

In summary, mainstream health organizations recommend a minimum intake of 250-500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day for adults in the form of EPA and DHA (WHO 200816).

However, higher amounts are often recommended for specific health conditions.

With this in mind, omega-3 fatty acids can help against heart disease, cancer, and depression. Therefore, dosages range from 200-4,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day.

If you want to increase your omega-3 fatty acid consumption due to a specific health condition, you should talk to your doctor first.

Nevertheless, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies concluded that an additional daily intake of up to 5000 mg of EPA and DHA (combined) is generally safe (EFSA 201217).

In particular, these experts state that the additional intake of up to 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day does not increase the risk of bleeding, negatively affect the immune function and glucose balance of healthy people or diabetics.

Omega-3 Deficiency: Symptoms

The excess of omega-6 fatty acids, coupled with the lack of omega-3 fatty acids, is noticeable in the western population through inflammation, disease, and obesity.

Accordingly, increasing dementia and insulin resistance reflects the lack of EPA, DHA, and ALA. However, you can recognize omega-3 deficiency at an early stage by the following symptoms:

  • Dry eyes
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Shed
  • Soft or brittle nails
  • Joint complaints
  • Fatigue
  • Poor sleep
  • Lack of concentration
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Frustration

Furthermore, the dramatic decrease in omega-3 fatty acids in our diet has been linked to the following health conditions (DiNicolantonio et al. 201918):

  • Insulin resistance
  • Prediabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Fatty liver
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Kidney diseases
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Inflammation of the respiratory tract (e.g., asthma)
  • Dementia
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder

Which Foods Are High in Omega-3?

In nature, omega-3 fatty acids occur in many of our healthiest foods. For example, you can find large amounts in fatty fish.

If you have access to wild-caught fish through a trusted fishmonger, the best way to get omega-3 fatty acids is to get them from these natural foods.

However, farmed fish is not ideal since it generally has a lower concentration of omega-3 and a higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids.

Because wild-caught seafood can also be contaminated, mainly by mercury, here is a list of less harmful foods containing omega-3 fatty acids (Mercola 201719):

  • Oysters
  • Butterfish
  • Scallops
  • Crabs
  • Salmon
  • Mullet
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Shrimps
  • Hake
  • Sea Wolf
  • Tilapia
  • Squid
  • Clams

In addition to fatty fish, game and grass-fed beef also provide a noteworthy source of DHA and EPA.

Alpha-linolenic acid, on the other hand, is found naturally in certain nuts and seeds, as you will learn on the following list of the best foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

13 Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Besides their high omega-3 content, the following foods shine with a high density of essential minerals, amino acids, and vitamins.

I listed these 13 outstanding omega-3 foods from the lowest to the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids per 100 grams of the respective food.

To do so, I summed up the amount of ALA, DHA, EPA, DPA, and other omega-3 fatty acids in the foods.

Furthermore, you can find the reference link to the nutrition data details right next to the omega-3 content in brackets.

13. Eggs (74 mg / 100g*)

Since eggs are one of the most versatile and nutritious foods, they should not be missing on this list of the best omega-3 fatty acid foods.

However, the majority of the nutrients are in the egg yolk. So, don’t just go for egg whites – eat the whole thing!

Besides A, B, and D vitamins, the yolk contains healthy fats. The egg white, on the other hand, includes components of collagen, which help maintain and renew skin, bones, and muscles.

Moreover, free-range eggs and so-called “omega-3 eggs” from chickens, which nourish themselves on flaxseed or fish oil, can even contain 150-200 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.

12. Grass-Fed Beef (88 mg*)

Grass-fed cattle may graze on green, grassy pastures, which are the best source of food for them. After all, this is the natural nutrition of cows.

And the feeding makes all the difference. Accordingly, a study compared grass-fed to grain-fed beef.

Not only does the meat of grass-fed cattle provide four times more omega-3 fatty acids, but it also has five times more conjugated linolenic acid.

And this unique fat from grass-fed beef and dairy products can counteract type 2 diabetes and the accumulation of body fat (Daley et al. 201020).

11. Oysters (672 mg*)

After-work-oysters for everyone? These mussels are not only a decadent party snack but also a first-class source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Furthermore, oysters are rich in iron, potassium, and magnesium, which is why they can promote muscle recovery and counteract cramps.

10. Anchovies (1478 mg*)

You don’t need to limit anchovies to a pizza- or salad-topping.

Hence, you can put these tremendous omega-3 sources freshly on the grill or in the oven. Moreover, anchovies also serve as a substitute for sardines in various recipes.

Additionally, anchovies can bring a vast amount of protein, calcium, potassium, selenium, niacin, and B vitamins into your diet.

anchovies represent foods with omega-3 fatty acids

9. Sardines (1605 mg*)

Sardines are small, fatty fish that you often eat as an appetizer, snack, or delicacy.

But when eaten whole, they are incredibly nutritious. So this food with omega-3 fatty acids provides almost all the nutrients your body needs.

Like the other fatty fish above, sardines are incredibly rich in selenium, which can counteract stress on the cellular level and slows down the aging process (Cardoso et al. 201621).

8. Herring (1729 mg*)

Although pickled herring is often served as a starter, you can put these small fish on the grill, in the oven, or a pan as well.

Although smoked herring is famous as a snack, it is a beautiful food high in omega-3 fatty acids as well.

Furthermore, a smoked herring filet can already cover the daily need at selenium, Vitamin B12, and D.

7. Salmon (2018 mg*)

Salmon is one of the most popular and nutritious fishes out there. But there are several differences between wild and farmed salmon.

If possible, you should always go for wild-caught salmon. Accordingly, farmed salmon generally has a lower concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and a higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids.

And this fact significantly reduces the anti-inflammatory effect.

Also, salmon contains a high content of protein, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and B vitamins.

6. Mackerel (2670 mg*)

Although it is debatable whether mackerel is as delicious as wild salmon, a freshly caught mackerel is even higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

Since they are also more readily available than most other fatty fish, mackerel is a staple on the list of the highest in omega-3.

5. Caviar (6789 mg*)

Although caviar is an expensive way to get omega-3 fatty acids, at least now you know what you are getting in return.

Because this noble food offers a very high concentration of EPA, DHA as well as DPA (*), caviar is a first-class anti-inflammatory food, which helps you lose weight.

4. Walnuts (9079 mg*)

Among nuts, walnuts have the highest omega-3 content and are also incredibly rich in antioxidants (Hudthagosol et al. 201222).

Compared to other nuts where omega-6 fatty acids are predominant, with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 4:1 walnuts can improve the dangerous average of 17:1 in our bodies 4:1 (Singh et al. 201023).

For example, walnuts can decrease chronic inflammation.

Moreover, studies have shown that they help to reduce the risk of cancer, prevent cell damage, and lose weight (Neale et al. 201724).

3. Flax Seeds (22813 mg*)

In particular for vegans and vegetarians, flax seeds are indispensable, since they represent one of the very few plant foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Accordingly, they improve blood clotting, blood pressure, blood fat values, diabetes and the inflammation risk (Faintuch et al. 200725Mandaşescu et al. 200526Kawakami et al. 201527Bloedon et al. 200428).

You should note that flaxseed must be freshly ground to be better absorbed by the body.

For example, you can grind it in a coffee or pepper mill.

Although flaxseed is incredibly rich in the mother omega-3 fatty acid ALA, the body can only synthesize small amounts of DHA and EPA from it.

Nevertheless, foods high in DHA and EPA are limited to marine sources.

2. Fish Oil (35311 mg*)

Fish oil is a concentrated omega-3 fatty acid source derived from those fatty fish you have already seen on this list.

Fatty fish used to make fish oil usually do not produce omega-3 fatty acids themselves. However, these fish consume large amounts of microalgae or smaller fish that are very rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

For this reason, fish oil is incredibly rich in EPA and DHA.

Therefore, this dietary supplement can be particularly useful for athletes and the elderly. For example, older women were able to rebuild muscle mass in three months by getting only two additional grams of fish oil a day (Rodacki et al. 201229).

1. Krill Oil (>54000 mg*)

Krill oil is considered better fish oil. Why?

Because the tiny shrimp-like crustacean is at the bottom of the food chain, krill oil is free from contaminants that other marine animals absorb.

Also, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which help you lose weight, cannot be absorbed as well from any other source (Ulven et al. 201130).

In short, krill oil offers the same weight-loss benefits as fish oil but already at a lower dosage.

Besides, fish and krill oil, like collagen, promote bone, hair, and skin renewal (Gingras et al. 200731).

Foods High in Omega-3 Offer Unique Benefits

When you look at this list, it becomes clear that you have numerous options for getting omega-3 fatty acids from food.

Moreover, these omega-3 fatty acids offer countless health benefits, such as fighting inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Nevertheless, it is not always easy to get high-quality natural foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially if you live at a great distance from the sea.

Therefore, when it comes to omega-3, it can make sense to use dietary supplements such as fish oil or krill oil.

If you are over 65, this is only legitimate because the natural aging process involves the loss of muscle mass.

Accordingly, studies have shown that supplementation with natural omega-3 fatty acids stimulates muscle protein synthesis and counteracts the aging process (Smith et al. 201132).

Foods High in Omega-3 FAQ

Do eggs have Omega 3?

As you can read in this article, eggs have omega-3 fatty acids. Moreover, so-called “omega-3 eggs” can deliver even more omega-3 fatty acids.

How can I get omega 3 without eating fish?

Besides eating fish, you can get omega-3 fatty acids by eating flax seeds, walnuts, or omega-3-eggs.

How can I increase my Omega 3?

You can increase your omega-3 fatty acids by eating fatty fish 🐟 or flax seeds.

What nuts are high in omega 3?

Walnuts are the nuts highest in omega-3 fatty acids.

Studies

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32Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, Mittendorfer B. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):402-12. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.005611. Epub 2010 Dec 15. PubMed PMID: 21159787; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3021432.

Mag. Stephan Lederer, Bakk., MSc

Stephan is a writer and a true man of science holding multiple diplomas and master degrees among different areas of research. Closing the gap between the conventional perception of health and the latest scientific evidence is his greatest analytical passion – always following the data.

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