Ask the Nutritionist
Q: What are the benefits of omega-3 fats and what foods are the healthiest sources of omega-3?
A: Omega-3 fats are increasingly recommended to maintain a healthy diet, but many people do not know what they are or where to find the best sources of these beneficial fats.
Omega-3 fats can reduce the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, prevent blood clots, and encourage healthy brain development in children. In cancer patients, preliminary research suggests that diets that include omega-3s may protect against the development of cancer, reduce inflammation, help prevent muscle loss associated with cancer treatment, and increase the potency of certain chemotherapy drugs.
While there are various food sources of omega-3 fats, different sources provide different levels of the "active" substances that help reduce inflammation. There is Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and the more metabolically active eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Fatty fish, such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, swordfish, herring and tuna steaks, are good sources of omega-3 fats. These types of fish are rich sources of the more metabolically active EPA and DHA and don't have to be converted from ALA. This is why fish is the preferred omega-3 source. Eggs and grass-fed beef are weaker sources of omega-3 fats.
Plant seed oils like flax (linseed), hemp, pumpkin, and walnut are all sources of ALA. Less than 10 percent of these oils are converted to EPA and DHA in the body, though. But we encourage people who avoid fish to include flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds or walnuts on a daily basis to get omega-3 fats into their diet.
Fish oil capsules are also a useful way to get a consistent amount of omega-3 fats if dietary fish intake is inconsistent. Fish oil capsules should provide at least 500 mg combined of EPA/DHA per capsule. There are also "fish-free" omega-3 capsules that are sourced from sea algae for vegetarians. A doctor or dietitian can recommend a specific amount of omega-3 in pill form.