Omega-3 fats are well-known for their health benefiting properties. Our body needs these essential fatty acids for its growth and proper functioning.

They play a crucial role in cardiovascular health, can improve mental disorders and also help prevent macular degeneration.

Though our body can synthesize many fats, omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained only through our diets. While there are many omega-3 supplements and many foods come fortified with omega-3, it is much better to opt for whole foods that are rich in omega-3.

Let us learn more about omega-3 fatty acids and the food that are rich in these healthy fats.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The three main omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Docosahexaenoic acid

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be obtained from breast milk, fish and algae oil. This fatty acid serves as a structural component in cell membranes.

DHA is the predominant structural fatty acid in the central nervous system and retina, and its availability is crucial for brain development (1)

DHA is essential during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Studies have shown that infants of mothers two take supplements with DHA have higher mental processing scores, psychomotor development, hand-eye coordination and stereo acuity at four years of age.

Intake of DHA during the pre-school years also helps prevent ADHD.

Eicosapentaenoic acid

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can be obtained by eating oily fish or fish oil like cod liver, herring, mackerel, salmon, menhaden and sardine, and edible seaweed and phytoplankton.

It is used to form signaling molecules called eicosanoids. These fatty acids help in reducing inflammation and are useful in dealing with mental health conditions like depression (2).

Alpha-linolenic acid

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can be obtained from plant-based sources like chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, and many common vegetable oils.

Though they are the most common omega-3 in the diet, ALA is not very active in the body. Our body needs to convert ALA to EPA or DHA for it to become active.

Unfortunately, only 5 percent of ALA gets converted to EPA, and just .5 percent of this fatty acid gets converted to DHA.

Food rich in Omega-3

Many omega-3 fortified foods like margarine, juices, and snacks are available on the market these days. These foods are made by adding omega-3 during the manufacturing process.

Omega-3 supplements are a good option for those who do not eat fish. Omega-3 dietary supplements include fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, and algal oil. You must make sure that you choose a good quality supplement which does not contain any harmful compounds.

The best sources of omega-3 are whole, natural foods. Here’s a list of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids:

1. Atlantic mackerel (    5134 mg in 100 grams)

Mackerel is a small fatty fish which is incredibly rich in omega-3. They are a rich source of selenium and vitamin B12 as well. It helps in lowering blood pressure, and cholesterol (3, 4).

This saltwater fish is low in mercury and is helpful in improving bone health as well.

2. Salmon (2260 mg in 100 grams)

Salmon is one of the best nutrient-rich foods known to man. Other than omega-3, it also contains magnesium, potassium, selenium, and various B vitamins.

The EPA and DHA in salmon have several health benefits like decreased inflammation, reduced blood pressure, lower risk of cancer and improved the functioning of cells that like the arteries (5, 6).

3. Cod liver oil (2664 mg in one tablespoon)

Cod liver oil is taken from the livers of the codfish. It is rich in omega 3, vitamin D and vitamin A. A single spoon of cod liver oil can provide 90 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin A and 113 percent of your need for vitamin D.

It helps maintain healthy eyes and skin and also improves brain function (7).

4. Walnuts (2664 mg in ¼ cup)

Walnuts are rich in omega-3, copper, manganese, and vitamin E. Walnuts are higher in omega-3 than any other nut. A single serving of walnuts can meet the daily requirement for ALA, which 1.6 grams to 1.1 grams per day for men and women respectively.

Studies have shown that ALA helps lower your risk of cardiovascular disease (8). Walnuts are also a rich source of fiber. The skin of walnuts also contains phenol antioxidants.

5. Chia seeds (2457 mg in 1 tablespoon)

Chia seeds are incredibly nutritious. They contain all the essential amino acids. They are rich in omega 3, manganese, calcium, phosphorus and many other beneficial nutrients.

Chia seeds contain more fatty acids per gram than salmon. You can sprinkle them on salads and yogurt or add them to shakes and smoothies.

6. Herring (1885 mg in 3 ounces)

Herring is an oily fish that is available as a canned snack. It is also a rich source of vitamin D, selenium and vitamin B12. The health benefits of eating herring include protection against heart disease and diabetes,

7. Flaxseeds (1597 mg in 1 tablespoon)

These seeds are the most abundant source of the omega 3 ALA. They are rich in fiber, vitamin E and magnesium. They are often ground and milled to make oil.

Flaxseed oil, fibers, and flax lignans help in reduction of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, autoimmune and neurological disorders.

Flax protein also helps in the prevention and treatment of heart disease (9).

8. Albacore tuna (1414 mg in 3 ounces)

This fish is a rich source of omega 3, protein, selenium, and vitamin B12. It contains EPA and DHA which help in lowering triglycerides, slow the growth of atherosclerotic plaques and prevent arrhythmias.

It is also high in mercury, so children and pregnant women should avoid eating this tuna.

9. Whitefish (1363 mg in 3 ounces)

Whitefish refers to any fish that has flaky white meat. This fish is low in fat, high in protein and full of essential vitamins and minerals.

In fact, one serving of white fish provides more omega-3 as compared to pink or sockeye salmon. It improves bone health, rejuvenates cells, cures anemia, enhances memory, and slows down aging.

10. Sardines (1363 mg in one can)

Sardines are rich in many nutrients and also help improve cardiovascular health. They contain omega 3, selenium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.

Sardines provide both EPA and DHA that help to reduce inflammation, which results in improved heart health, improved brain function and lower the risk of chronic disease (10).

11. Caviar (1086 mg in one tablespoon)

Caviar is considered a luxury food item and we consume it as a starter or a garnish. It consists of fish eggs and is high in omega-3 and low in omega-6 fatty acids.

It also contains selenium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin A, E, B12. Caviar helps to promote a healthy nervous, circulatory, and immune system.

12. Hemp Seeds (1000 mg in one tablespoon)

Hemp seeds are rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They also contain arginine, which is an amino acid which is beneficial for heart health.

Hemp seeds have antioxidant properties that help improve skin, joints and heart health. According to a 2015 study, when hemp seeds were added to the diet of hens, the omega-3 content in their egg yolks increased (11).

13. Anchovies (951 mg in 3.75 ounces)

Anchovies are tiny fish with a strong flavor. Thanks to their rich omega-3 content, they are great for heart health, weight loss and help improve the skin.

Anchovies are rich in calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, which help regulate blood pressure and improve bone health.

14. Oysters (672 mg in 3.5 ounces)

The omega-3 fatty acids in oysters occur as EPA and DHA. Oysters are rich in many other nutrients like vitamin A, E, and C, zinc, iron, calcium, selenium and vitamin B12.

The health benefits of oysters include weight loss, increased bone strength, and improved immunity.

15. Natto (428 mg in ¼ cup)

This Japanese superfood is made from fermented soybeans. It helps lower cholesterol and keeps your heart and skin healthy. This extremely nutritious food is rich in omega-3, proteins, and many vitamins and minerals.

16. Egg yolks (240 mg in half cup)

Egg yolks contain many nutrients like vitamin A, D, E, and K, along with omega-3 fatty acids. They help improve heart health and are also good for the eyes.

Symptoms of omega-3 deficiency

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for the proper functioning of many organs. Despite the increased awareness, most people still aren’t consuming enough fatty acids. Watch out for these signs of omega-3 deficiency and increase your intake.

  • Dry and rough skin: Omega-3 improves the skins barrier function and keeps the moisture in and irritants out. Rough, dry skin and premature wrinkles are a sign of omega-3 deficiency.
  • Poor concentration: Regular consumption of omega-3 improves brain health and vitality. When you don’t consume enough omega-3, the myelin sheath around the nerve cells gets depleted, which slows down the functioning of the brain. This slow-down can result in distractibility, poor concentration, and memory issues.
  • Eyesight problems: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for preventing macular degeneration, glaucoma, and dry eye syndrome. Lack of omega-3 in the diet can lead to eyesight issues.
  • Arthritis: Symptoms of arthritis, like joint pain, tenderness, and stiffness of joints increase with lack of omega-3. Omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce these symptoms.
  • Obesity: Deficiency of omega-3 can lead to slow down in metabolism, which leads to weight gain. So, increase your omega-3 intake to lose weight.

Final thoughts

The body needs Omega-3 fatty acids for many essential functions.  A deficiency of these essential fatty acids can lead to obesity, arthritis, macular degeneration and mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

So, go on and cook something delicious and healthy with these foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Some best omega-3 rich foods are salmon, cod liver oil, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, herring, sardines, hemp seeds, whitefish, etc.