How to Get More Omega 3s in Your Diet
Healthy fats are crucial for the body’s functioning, yet too many Americans are ingesting all the wrong kinds. Their diets are high in inflammation-triggering cooking oils, saturated fats from industrially-raised red meats, or trans fats hiding out in ultra-processed foods. But what if I told you that certain kinds of fats will actually promote your health and longevity, rather than detract from it?
Yes, these healthy fats exist. They’re called omega-3 fatty acids, and they’re naturally present in a variety of delicious ingredients. Below, I’m going to share some of my top omega-3 foods. But first, let’s look at why it’s so important to get more of these fats in your diet.
Why Are Fats Necessary?
The fat-free and low-fat crazes that swept our country in past decades deserve to stay in the history books. Fats are necessary for numerous crucial functions of the body. We do want to stay far away from certain harmful fats, like trans fats, certain saturated fats, and anything that’s fried. But the right kinds of fats have an important role to play in our diet.
First of all, they help us feel full and satiated after eating, which prevents us from overeating at or between meals. Within the body, fats help in absorbing and storing certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. They also assist the body in storing energy, building healthy cells, maintaining muscle mass, supporting proper brain function, and making hormones. They can even help prevent oxidative damage and degenerative nerve disorders.
In other words, fat can be our friend, not our enemy. Omega-3s are one category of these helpful types of fats that we need to make sure we’re consuming regularly.
Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are so beneficial because they help reduce inflammation in the body. And inflammation, we now know, is what hastens disease by putting constant stress on internal systems like organs, arteries, and nerve cells. I call omega-3 fatty acids “superstar nutrients” because they work against this onslaught.
First, here’s a quick reminder of the different types of omega-3s:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant-based, polyunsaturated fatty acid that promotes brain health, including neuroplasticity. ALA also helps protect against cardiovascular and neurological disorders.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can help support a healthy mood and emotions by reducing the severity of inflammation in the brain.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may assist the brain with crucial functions such as attention, processing, and memory. DHA makes up ¼ of all brain fat and helps build brain cell membranes.
One scientific review noted that numerous studies have linked essential fatty acids with other health benefits: cancer prevention, brain and vision functioning, and a reduction in cardiovascular disease, arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, and neurological/neuropsychiatric disorders.
On the other hand, a deficiency in omega-3s can create greater risk of a long list of health problems. These include age-related cognitive decline, depression, mood swings, and hand and foot neuropathy. But a healthy intake promotes immune response, cardiovascular and joint health, vision, skin health and wound healing. Omega-3 fatty acids are also critical for pregnant women, as they help develop her baby’s eyes, brain, and immune system.
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6
One word of caution: Don’t confuse omega-3s with omega-6s. Most Americans should be increasing their omega-3 intake and reducing omega-6. In decades past, humans consumed these at about a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. But with the modernization of processing and storing groceries, today’s foods are often formulated with ingredients like preservatives and processed oils—which, unfortunately, are high in omega-6s. Today, that 1:1 ratio of human consumption has ballooned to 20:1! You can only imagine the inflammatory havoc this wreaks on the body, raising the risk for everything from heart disease to cancer.
When increasing your omega-3 intake and reducing omega-6s, aim for an optimal ratio of 1:2 omega-6 to omega-3 (and no higher than 1:3). Studies have shown that maintaining the correct ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s will also help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. You’ll decrease triglycerides and help prevent LDL from oxidizing, which reduces damage to arteries.
My Favorite Omega-3 Foods
Want to start getting more omega-3s in your diet? Add some of my favorite omega-3-rich foods to your shopping list:
- Meat and fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, albacore (white) tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, lake trout, and halibut. When eating other meats, select grass-fed, free-range types, which have roughly 4% to 6% EPA/DHA and much lower levels of omega-6 and saturated fats than factory-farmed meat.
- Eggs. If you don’t have sensitivities to eggs, they’re a great omega-3 option—rich in protein, simple to prepare, and versatile for use in many dishes. Plus, you can make hard-boiled eggs in advance and grab them for on-the-go snacks. Always choose a variety that is cage-free, organic, and DHA-enriched from vegetarian-fed chickens.
- Herbs. We don’t always associate herbs with providing healthy fats, but herbs can be an easy (and flavorful) way to sneak them into your diet. For example, oregano, a strong antioxidant, is a source of omega-3 fatty acids. And thyme increases DHA while being densely packed with polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals.
- Flax, chia, or hemp seeds. Seeds are naturally high in omega-3s, and I love them because they’re so easy to add to meals. Sprinkle some seeds in smoothies, on salads, or on top of oatmeal, for example. Just be aware that the benefits of seeds don’t necessarily translate to their corresponding oils. For example, I advise staying away from flax oil, which is actually inflammatory and higher in omega-6 fatty acids.
- Walnuts. When it comes to omega-3 content, one nut beats out all others by a significant margin: walnuts. Make sure that you’re buying raw, unsalted nuts. Avoid roasted varieties, which can oxidize the nuts’ oil. If roasted is the only option, pick dry-roasted over those roasted in oil.
Many people don’t consume the optimal omega-3 to omega-6 ratio or get enough healthy omega-3s in their diet. That’s why omega-3 supplements can really save the day—and your health. In addition to the many benefits listed above, omega-3 supplements have been associated with improving responses to everyday stressors and increasing blood flow to the brain.
Help ensure a healthy omega-3 balance by taking fish oil supplements. This is especially important for people who don’t eat fish in their diet, but even fish eaters can struggle with getting the suggested amount of omega-3s. A fish oil supplement is the best-known source of both EPA and DHA.
Most adults can take 1 to 2 grams of high-quality fish oil per day, balanced between EPA and DHA. A healthy balance is generally 60% EPA to 40% DHA, but healthcare professionals’ opinions on this can vary. Those with inflammatory issues may want to increase the dose to 3 or 4 grams per day. To remove the guesswork, BrainMD offers Omega-3 Power, with 1,600 mg of EPA, DHA, and other omega-3s to help boost mood, focus, memory, cognition, and heart health.
Protect Your Body and Brain Health with Omega-3 Foods
Fats are so important for a healthy brain and body, but we want to be extra careful about consuming the right kinds. Because the body cannot naturally manufacture crucial omega-3 fatty acids, you’ll need to get your prescribed amount from both foods and supplements. Your body will benefit from their anti-inflammatory effects in the short-term, creating better health, lowered risk of disease, and greater longevity over the long-term.
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