Am I getting enough Omega-3 in my diet?

Published February 19, 2015

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Many people believe that consuming fats in your diet is a bad thing. This is only true for saturated fats. Polyunsaturated fatty acids on the other hand, such as omega-3, are in fact very good for you1. Omega-3 such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) maintain general health and well-being and also provide many health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are part of a group of nutrients known as essential fatty acids (EFAs).

They’re called ‘essential’ because they cannot be produced by the body and therefore must be consumed through the diet or where dietary intake is inadequate, from supplements. In the body EFAs are important structural components of cell membranes and are essential for a healthy heart, vision and nervous system.

Two important omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA,) are found in high levels in seafood2. Another form of omega-3, alpha‐linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plants such as flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and other nuts. .Your body can convert ALA into both EPA and DHA, but only in small amounts. For this reason, it’s usually advised that you focus on getting enough EPA and DHA in your food or through supplements.

How can I get more omega-3 in my diet?

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to ensure that you consume enough omega-3 fatty acids in your daily diet. The richest dietary sources of EPA and DHA are oily fish such as

  • Herring
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Tuna

They’re also found in a number of plant sources such as:

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Canola oil
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu

It’s recommended that adult Australians consume 250-500mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily. This is the equivalent of two to three 150g serves of oily fish per week as part of a healthy diet3.
The Mediterranean diet has been found to be beneficial to heart health. As it contains regular consumption of fish, olive oil and nuts, this diet is higher in fat than what you may expect is good for heart health but these are mostly good fats – the unsaturated kind.

If you’re vegetarian, or don’t like the taste of fish, there are several other ways you can add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Many products are enriched with added omega-3, such as some brands of milk, yoghurt, eggs, bread and soy drinks. Look for the words “with added omega-3” on the package. Plant based omega-3 suitable for vegetarians can also be found in canola oil and margarine, nuts, seeds and in dark green vegetables.

Am I likely to have inadequate Omega-3 in my diet?

People may be low in omega-3 if they don’t eat the recommended amounts of oily fish. These groups of people may include:

  • Vegetarians and vegans
  • Those that dislike the taste of fish
  • Some people may not be confident cooking fish so avoid it
  • People who are confused or hesitant about the message of certain types of fish being high in mercury
  • Children of parents who don’t give their children fish due to the fear of choking on bones
  • Some people lack the knowledge to know which fish are healthy choices; which fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids

These individuals should increase the amount of omega-3 from plant sources in their diet, or consider using an omega-3 supplement in capsule or liquid form. Many supplements contain ingredients that help to mask the fishy taste and make them more palatable.

How can I supplement my Omega-3 intake?

Omega-3 supplements made from fish oil, krill oil, algae or flaxseed oil are also available in capsule and liquid form. These are ideal for those who prefer an easy and convenient way to help ensure all their omega-3 needs are being met every day.

Fish oil supplements are also available in capsule or liquid form. Look for one which provides at least 500mg of EPA and DHA in total, or speak to your pharmacist or doctor for advice about which product is right for you.

References

  1. Heart Foundation, Healthy fat choices. Accessed October, 2018
  2. National Institutes of Health, Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Consumers, 2018.
  3. Heart Foundation, Sources of Omega-3, 2015. Accessed October, 2018. URL: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/main/Programs/Sources_of_omega_3.pdf

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