Get More Omega 3 into Your Diet
Have you heard? If not, I’m proud to be the first to tell you – fat is healthy. From preventing strokes and heart disease to reducing inflammation, fat plays a significant role in optimal wellness foods high in omega-3 have unimaginable benefits.
fatty acids Omega 3 (mackerel, camelina oil, rapeseed oil, organic egg, pumpkin, flax seeds, walnuts)
For decades, the health-conscious have been eyeballing labels and assessing their plates to avoid sugar, carbs, and fat. We now know that some fats, most notably polyunsaturated fatty acids, don’t deserve such a bad rap.
Tell me –
Do you have a history of fat phobia? Have you been abstaining from this misunderstood macronutrient for so long that you don’t know where to begin?
Today we’re going to focus on the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Don’t start jotting down a shopping list just yet!
Let’s lean in and see what makes heart-healthy omega-3 fats stand out from the artery-clogging fats we don’t want.
What are the benefits of omega-3?
Happy without fat?
Here’s a quick rundown of why you might want to change your mind and start eating more omega-3s:
- Reduced depression and better moods
- Lower blood pressure
- Bone strength
- Hormonal balance
- Beautiful skin
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Reduced inflammation
Omega-3 isn’t the only essential fatty acid you should become more acquainted with. It has a pretty interesting relationship with omega-6.
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6: A Quick Guide
Let’s start with the basics.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are groups of essential fatty acids (EFAs). The word “essential” means that these are the fats we need for better brain health, heart health, and cell repair.
Studies such as this indicate that EFAs also reduce inflammation and boost immunity via the gut.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are also polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) both contain different EFAs.
Omega-3’s EFAs include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Omega-6’s main EFA is linoleic acid (LA), which first converts to gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), and then to arachidonic acid (AA).
Here’s where things get a little murky for omega-6’s reputation. While you do need the LA, too much AA can alternatively increase inflammation.
Yes, that’s the total opposite of what we intend to achieve.
The more omega-6 foods you eat, the harder it is for omega-3 to swoop in and compensate.
Here is why:
The real reason we’re advised to increase our omega-3 intake is that Western diets are heavy on omega-6. Foods richest in omega-6 are not only more prevalent than omega-3, but include unhealthier options.
But wait, there’s more:
Here’s an example of everyday items containing omega-6 PUFAs:
- Corn oil
- Vegetable oil
Red meat and butter are an obvious no-no for those cutting fat, although the oils are more problematic to me. Corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, and safflower (vegetable) oil, all heavy in omega 6, are used to produce many foods. From frying to processing, omega-6 is on the verge of taking over.
This is important.
Pushing for more omega-3 doesn’t mean you need to avoid omega-6 altogether – we are looking for more balance. A ratio of four omega-6’s to one omega-3 is a good starting point to build from.
Food Sources of Anti-Inflammatory, Cell-Regenerating, Heart-Strengthening Omega-3!
With all the different EFAs, PUFAs, and tricky synthesis factors, sorting out your feelings about omegas can be hard. Fortunately, you can’t go wrong when incorporating the following into your diet.
1. Fish or algae. Fish is the best animal source of omega-3 fatty acids, providing DHA and EPA that your body won’t make on its own. Don’t be hard on yourself – fish don’t make DHA or EPA, either. It comes from the algae they eat.
Regular fish consumption isn’t as common in many parts of the United States as it is the world over. Many people also have understandable concerns about pollution and sustainability. If you’re in an area where a good piece of fish is hard to come by, look into algae oil.
Algae oil: best new superfood you haven’t tried yet? Some consider it to be the new coconut oil.
Algae is a little more exciting than fish for a few reasons.
For one, it’s friendly to vegan and vegetarian diets. Second, it doesn’t involve hunting down a pricey cut of wild salmon. Its status as a plant-based source of DHA is pretty incredible since the other options here contain ALA.
ALA converts to EPA and DHA when eaten.
The catch is that you must eat a lot of ALA to approach EPA/DHA levels provided by algae or fish. We have enough ALA-rich options to make it happen, with algae standing by as a shortcut.
Were you looking forward to more seafood?
- Mussels. They’re more affordable and sustainable than popular fish, with plenty of omega-3s.
- Cruciferous veggies. Specifically, Chinese broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. My favorite of the bunch, cauliflower, packs nearly 1500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids into a 200-calorie serving.
The best thing about using cauliflower to sneak omega 3 is that you’ll never get bored. No, really – it’s incredibly versatile. You can make pizza crust, tortillas, mock mashed potatoes, and more. It’s easy to use seasonings to make cauliflower taste different with each recipe.
Although a tad more exotic, Chinese broccoli and Brussels sprouts hold their own at 2346 mg and 961 mg, respectively, both can be roasted in the oven without destroying their omega-3 content, and both taste great with a nice vinaigrette!
- Flax. Flax is something you should already be adding to your smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, yogurt, and anywhere else it’ll fit. Three tablespoons of flax seed have an impressive 6,338 mg of omega-3 ALA inside.
Flax also offers us protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. You can replace multiple supplements with flax alone! Chances are, you’ll never even taste it in your food.
I prefer to buy whole flaxseeds and store them in the refrigerator. I use a coffee grinder or food processor to grind small batches into weekly meals. This way, the flax stays fresher for much longer. The whole seeds can be sprinkled on salads and hot dishes as an effortless, super nutritious garnish.
You can also opt for flaxseed oil – and it’s often higher in ALA than whole seeds. Stick to using your flax oil for salad dressings and other condiments; it shouldn’t be used for frying or sautéing. The flavor is light and unobtrusive.
- Chia seeds. If I could pick one seed over flax, it would be chia. Chai seed offers nearly roughly the same ALA content as flax. Why would we even bother with other seeds? Because chia behaves a little differently when added to foods.
Chia seeds expand and congeal in liquids, for example. This may not be ideal if you have a smooth, thin texture in mind for drinks, dips, and dressings. My favorite thing to have twice a week for breakfast is chia seed pudding.
- I add ¼ of a cup of organic black chia seeds to ¾ cup of unsweetened coconut milk. I stir in vanilla extract and a little maple syrup and refrigerate overnight.
By morning, the seeds have expanded to create a texture like tapioca pudding, without gelatin or added sugar, and with extra omega-3s. Add fresh fruit and nuts like the ones suggested below before eating for even more benefits.
If pudding isn’t your favorite, try them in a smoothie since the thickness meshes well with chia’s tendency to thicken. Like flax, chia is a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. I recommend storing them in the fridge as well.
- Walnuts. One-fourth of a cup of walnuts contains 2,664 mg of omega-3s. I’ve noticed that many weight-conscious people are wary of walnuts and other nuts, likely due to fat content. They are indeed calorically dense because they contain many beneficial nutrients.
I believe that walnuts and other nuts are a crucial part of a healthy diet. When eaten regularly, research indicates that nuts aren’t likely to add pounds. What they do add to your body is folate, biotin, antioxidants, vitamin E, and melatonin. And, oh yeah, the omega-3s.
Walnuts do contain higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids on top of those omega-3s. This should not deter you from nuts if you avoid unhealthier sources of omega-6, like those I already shared.
What about other nuts, such as cashews, macadamias, and brazil nuts?
These are all tree nuts, like walnuts, and can serve as a decent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid roasted nuts in favor of raw, where possible.
- Sesame. Grown tired of adding all of these seeds to your smoothies and nuts to your breakfasts? Well-loved for many centuries, sesame takes many forms. You can use the seeds much as you would flax or chia, or you can experiment with tahini.
Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. Combining tahini with other sources of omega-3 is a brilliant way to bump up your ratio without getting bored. Mix tahini with flaxseed oil to make a dressing for roasted cauliflower, or make some good old-fashioned humus. Just be sure to use an omega-3 oil in your recipe.
Making your tahini is so easy. It’s just oil and sesame seeds – that’s it! I still think it’s better to buy a jar first so you know what texture and flavor to aim for.
- Herbs – fresh and dried.
I admit that this one came as a delightful surprise to me. My all-time favorite herb, fresh basil, comes with a megahit of 2,747 mg of omega-3 per 200 calories—a great way to sneak omega 3.
Basil is a very low-calorie food, so getting 200 calories worth would be a challenge – unless you love pesto! Dried oregano rates are about the same as fresh basil.
Spearmint and peppermint each offer over 1,000 mg per 200 calories. Again, consuming huge quantities of these low-calorie herbs would be difficult. I still back them as part of a diet with adequate omega-3s.
It’s best to eat multiple plant sources of omega-3 to get enough ALAs for EPA or DHA conversion.
If you tried just one or two sources, you wouldn’t have enough variety in your diet to keep it going. Especially when we bear in mind that we need a lot of ALAs for the process.
Here’s why this recipe is so effective:
Herbs are antioxidant, antiviral, and rich in minerals and other phytonutrients. Spices like cloves and paprika contain omega-3 as well! You can sneak more of them into pretty much everything you eat – consider the omega-3s a bonus.
Supplementing with Fish Oil
Conspicuously absent from my list of the best ways to sneak omega 3 is the all-popular fish oil supplement. Why is that when the easiest way to “sneak” something is to swallow a pill and forget it?
I’m committed to only sharing recommendations I stand behind with you. I wouldn’t be sticking to that if my advice was just to go out and buy a bottle of pills. I’m frankly uncertain if you’d be getting what you paid for. The word on omega-3’s benefits has led to an oversaturated market stuffed with subpar supplements.
On top of the soft gel scams hiding in the aisles, dietary adjustments are more effective overall. Sure, I can get behind a raw, whole-food multivitamin, but I believe that food is the best medicine.
If you’re already getting great results from a fish oil supplement, keep going, as science may have your back. For maximum bio-availability that doesn’t require having quality capsules on hand, put the foods shared above in regular rotation.
Are you confused?
Here Is The Bottom Line
If learning the difference between omegas has been a little confusing for you, you’re certainly not alone.
Whole plant foods (and minimally processed, judiciously-selected oils) lead to better health.
Processed foods are generally associated with omega-6 EFAs, which is one cause of inflammation (disease). If we cut back on omega-6 and include more omega-3, we’ll be back on track. You can do this daily, with or without a supplement, by making better choices.
Remember to add these to your recipes:
- Fish (algae if you’re eating plant-based)
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
- Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens
I feel pretty lucky that I’ve already been including many of these things in my daily diet. Now I want to know what your plans are.
What can you replace in your kitchen with one of my recommendations? Are you convinced that you need more omega-3 fatty acids? As usual, I’m happy to receive any questions you might have.