You’ve probably heard that getting omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon and fatty fish) is important for your overall health, but if you’re not a fish fan, or just want to learn other ways to work these essential fats into your diet, we’re here to help.
“Omega-3's are polyunsaturated fats that our essential to our diet, meaning that our body cannot produce them and we must consume them in the foods we eat,” says Lori Zanini, RD, National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Omega-3's are important in brain health and normal growth and development. They have also been linked with decreasing inflammation improving rheumatoid arthritis, regulating blood clotting lowering the risk of stroke and heart attack, and possessing cardiovascular protective effects by lowering serum triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, as well as enhancing the elasticity of our blood vessels and lowering blood pressure, she says.
Current research suggests consuming omega-3 fats can decrease the risk of certain types of cancer including colorectal, prostate, and breast cancers. There’s also research being conducted on the potential benefits of omega-3's in treating depression, slowing the rate of Alzheimer’s disease onset, and preventing certain types of cancer.
The three main omega-3 fatty acids are Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The recommended adequate intake for adults is one to two grams per day.
While the main source of EPA and DHA is fish, certain plants provide ALA to the diet that can then be converted EPA and DHA in the body, says Zanini.
Add more ALA to your diet in the form of flaxseeds and flaxseed oil (the body
utilizes omega-3's when they’re consumed as ground flaxseeds), chia seeds, hemp seeds/oil, walnuts, canola oil, soy beans, tofu, leafy greens, and seaweed/microalgae.
Here are few delicious fish-free ways to get your recommended amount of omega-3s daily:
- Add one to two teaspoons of flaxseed oil to a smoothie or shake, or as part of a salad dressing. (Don’t use flaxseed oil for cooking since it has a low
- The recommended amount of ground flaxseed is two to three tablespoons per day. Sprinkle these seeds on yogurt and oatmeal, or add it into muffins, baked goods, and smoothies.
- Add chopped walnuts or walnut halves to energy bars, oatmeal, trail mix, sprinkle them on salad, toast them and add them to your favorite side dishes and veggies, or eat them plain.
- Throw cooked soybeans on salads, add them to stirfrys or snack on edamame by themselves.
- You could also get your ALAs from chia seeds by eating one to two tablespoons per day. They’re often added to liquids such as kombucha, unsweetened almond or soy milk, and even water. Always add these seeds slowly and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation and stomach discomfort. Chia seed puddings have become quite popular lately and can be enjoyed as a breakfast, snack, or dessert!
(Amounts of alpha-linolenic acid in oils and foods vary. Flaxseeds
have about 2.2 g per tablespoon, canola oil has 1.3 g per tablespoon, flaxseed oil has 8.5 g per tablespoon and English walnuts 0.7 g per tablespoon.)
- Lori Zanini, RD
- University of Maryland Medical Center
- Cleveland Clinic