Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are associated with reduced risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even better gut health. They can also help with weight management by increasing satiety and slowing down digestion. The bottom line is that healthy fats boost your health and keep you fuller for longer.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that has been extensively studied for their benefits to brain and heart health. A 2022 study found that individuals with high omega-3 fatty acids in their blood were more likely to have better cognitive and brain health in middle age. The study also assessed individual carriers of APOE-e4, a gene associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. These findings are consistent with studies showing brain health benefits with higher omega-3 consumption.
In addition to better cognitive health, omega-3 fatty acid consumption has also been associated with better mental health, with studies showing potential benefits for depression and anxiety. In addition to brain benefits, many studies point to the gains in heart health as well. A 2021 meta-analysis of 38 randomized controlled trials found that omega-3 fatty acid consumption helped with improvement in cardiovascular outcomes. Further, a 2022 study in the Journal of the American Association found that 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily was linked to improvements in blood pressure.
How much omega-3 should you consume daily?
There are two primary forms of omega-3 — the plant-based option, ALA, and the marine-based options, DHA and EPA. Both forms of omega-3 are good for you.
Studies show that most individuals are not getting enough omega-3s in their diet. The omega-3 fatty acids you should consume daily vary by many factors, such as age and your health history. According to the CDC, experts haven’t established a recommended amount of DHA and EPA, but there are daily recommended amounts of ALA based on age and sex. The recommended amounts are 1.1 g for women and 1.6 g for men.
5 foods rich in omega-3s
1. Walnuts (2.57 g of ALA omega-3 per ounce)
Walnuts contain the plant-based version of omega-3 fatty acids known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Walnuts are the only nut high in omega-3s and have been shown to help in the improvement of gut health and heart health (by helping to lower bad LDL cholesterol). They may also play a role in delaying cognitive decline and could even help to offset symptoms of stress, according to a 2022 study. In addition to being high in omega-3s, walnuts also boast over 4 grams of plant-based protein and almost 2g of fiber (per 1-ounce serving). Add them to your diet by topping salads with roasted walnuts, or make walnuts the nut of choice in pestos and sauces.
2. Cold water fish (1.57 g in a 3-ounce serving of salmon)
Cold water fish (such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and cod) are high in marine-based omega-3 fatty acids. New evidence from multiple studies shows that omega-3 consumption from fish or fish oil supplements may help the brain, the heart and the respiratory system. A 2023 study found that omega-3 consumption was associated with healthy lung function. A 2024 study found that they were linked to better lung function and a prolonged survival rate for patients with pulmonary fibrosis (a condition where scaring of the lungs makes it hard to breathe).
3. Hemp seeds (2.6 g in 3 tablespoons)
Hemp seeds (sometimes known as hemp hearts) are a nutrient-dense form of healthy fats, protein and potassium. This plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with better heart health due to its abundance of arginine — an amino acid that releases nitric oxide — which is a critical factor in healthy blood vessels and better blood pressure management. Adding hemp seeds to meals and snacks is a great way to boost fiber, protein and omega-3s in one shot. Add hemp seeds to oatmeal or yogurt in the morning, a soup at lunch or add them to salads and salad dressings.
4. Edamame (approximately 1.5 g in a ½ cup)
Soy-derived foods (such as tofu, edamame, and roasted soybeans) are plant-based proteins rich in protein, calcium and plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Soy is also high in isoflavones which are associated with a reduced risk of cancer. A 2024 study found that isoflavones significantly reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence and death (with the most significant risk associated with consumption of at least 60 mg per day). A 2020 meta-analysis found an inverse relationship between soy consumption and breast cancer. Use edamame in hummus and guacamole, or add edamame to veggie bowls and salads.
5. Algae and algal oil (1 to 3 g in 1 serving of algal oil)
Algae is a nutrient-packed sea vegetable that, along with plankton, is how fish such as salmon derive their omega-3 fats. Algae has been shown not only to contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids but has been studied to be a more environmentally conscious source of omega-3 as well, according to recent studies. Studies also show that algae may also boost digestive health. Algal oil (an oil derived from algae) is a popular supplemental approach to getting plant-based DHA and EPA as well. A 2008 study found that algal oil had the equivalent bioavailability — or how much of a nutrient is absorbed in the body — as cooked salmon. Use spirulina in your smoothie, add sea moss gel as a thickening agent in sauces, enjoy seaweed as a snack, or use algal oil as a supplement.
What about omega-3 supplements?
If consuming foods high in omega-3s is challenging, consider a supplement of marine-based DHA/EPA or plant-based ALA. Keep in mind that a supplement may not be needed if you consume fish at least twice a week in addition to various plant-based forms of omega-3s. Speak to your physician to determine the best option for you.
Getting enough omega-3s in your diet may have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health. Determining which sources make the most sense for you may be the first step toward meeting those daily requirements.
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