Omega 3 Foods: A Practical Guide
Benefits of omega 3 fatty acids in your body
Omega 3s are a family of essential fatty acids that:
- promote a healthy heart,
- reduce inflammation,
- improve the functioning of your nervous system,
- promote neurotransmitter balance,
- relieve depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, autism,
- improve sleep, and
- help to balance hormones.
Omega 3 deficiency symptoms
A low intake of omega-3 fats may contribute to the development of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, ADHD, personality disorder, and bipolar disorder. You may need more omega 3 if you experience:
- dry skin,
- dry hair or dandruff,
- poor memory or learning difficulties,
- inflammatory health problems (e.g. arthritis, high blood cholesterol, depression, PMS, breast pain or water retention).
Bioavailability of omega 3
The three most important types are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Effectively, we are allowing the fish to do the conversion of and bioaccumulation of omega 3s for us.
ALA is found mainly in plants, while DHA and EPA occur mostly in animal foods and algae. Omega 3 is one nutrient that strict vegans tend to struggle to obtain in adequate quantities in a bioavailable form.
It seems women can convert more ALA to DHA and EPA for use in the body. Healthy men can convert 8% of ALA to EPA, and 0-4% is converted to DHA, while healthy women can convert 21% of ALA to EPA and 9% to DHA. In view of these low conversion rates from plant-based ALA to the bioavailable DHA and EPA, most people will need to find a way to get DHA and EPA from fish-based sources in order to get enough bioavailable omega 3.
Satiety response to omega 3 fatty acids
Although omega 3 is essential, we only see a relatively weak satiety response to foods and meals that contain more omega 3 fatty acids in our satiety analysis. People consuming more omega 3 rich foods tend to consume around 10% fewer calories than those who consume less omega 3 rich foods.
While omega 3 is essential and beneficial, it’s not just the omega 3 that provide the satiety benefit, but rather the other nutrients that tend to come with seafood, and the reduction in omega 6 oils that are also important.
How much Omega 3 do you need?
The US Dietary Guidelines set a minimum intake of omega 3 at 1.1 g/day for women and 1.6 g/day for men.
Meanwhile, the Australian guidelines are much lower at only 0.16 g per day of omega 3 fatty acids.
The average Optimiser intake is well above this, with 3.1 g of omega 3 fatty acids per 2000 calories.
Can you overdose on omega 3?
Although flaxseed oil is generally well-tolerated, high doses may cause diarrhea. Allergic and anaphylactic reactions have been reported with flaxseed and flaxseed oil ingestion.
No severe adverse reactions have not been reported in those using fish oil or other EPA and DHA supplements. The most common adverse effect of fish oil or EPA and DHA supplements is a fishy aftertaste.
Omega 3 stretch target
Based on the actual intake of Optimisers, we have set a stretch target of 5.6 g/day for women and 7.0 g/day of omega 3 from food. Once you have started to get the hang of nutrient density, you could ‘level up’ by working to focus on these stretch targets to truly optimise your nutrition.
|nutrient||average||EAR||RDI||AI||UL||stretch (men)||stretch (women)|
|omega 3 (g)||3.1||1.6||7.0||5.6|
Omega 3 : omega 6 ratio
Rather than worrying about your omega 3 fatty acid intake, perhaps more critical is your ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids in your diet. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids compete with the same conversion enzymes.
While you need some omega-6 fatty acids, excessive amounts can cause inflammation and overwhelm the anti-inflammatory omega 3s in the body. A diet with a lot of omega 6 and not much omega 3 will increase inflammation. A diet of a lot of omega 3 and not much omega 6 will reduce inflammation.
Over the past hundred years, our intake of omega 6 oils (i.e. monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) has been booming!
Before the advent of agriculture, we would likely have obtained more omega 3 fatty acids than omega 6. However, these days, the typical omega 6:omega 3 ratio is between 12:1 to 25:1.
Even if you avoid bread and vegetable oils, the omega 6:omega 3 ratio in the food system is still quite high in a lot of the animal-based foods that are fed on grains (including farmed fish).
It appears that we should ideally have a ratio of less than 4:1 omega 6:omega 3, and preferably closer to 1:1. If you find that your omega 6:omega 3 ratio is elevated, you should consider reducing foods that contain significant amounts of vegetable oils and prioritise seafood.
Omega 3 rich food sources
Foods that contain more omega 3 fatty acids are typically oily fish but can also include the following foods:
- fish oil
- cod liver oil
- chicken drumstick
- Mozzarella cheese
- chicken breast
- chicken thigh
- pork cracklings
- sirloin steak
- whole egg
- yogurt plain
- half and half
- cheddar cheese
- sour pickles
- dill pickles
- Brussels sprouts
- mixed greens
- green beans
Omega 3 fatty acids work synergistically with vitamin A, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin E, gamma-tocopherol, bioflavonoids, magnesium, methionine, quercetin, selenium and zinc.
The micronutrient fingerprint chart below shows that omega 3 fatty acids are reasonably easy to obtain in adequate quantities from a nutrient-dense omnivorous diet.
Nutritious foods to naturally boost your omega 3
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of low omega 3 or are concerned that your current omega 3 intake is low, then you may be interested in our lists of vitamin D-rich foods and meals.
What you will get:
- Our Nutritional Optimisation Kickstart Guide,
- A list of the most popular 50 foods that contain more omega 3,
- A list of 100 popular foods that contain omega 3, and
- An even longer list of 150 common foods that contain more omega 3 to allow you to expand your nutrient-dense repertoire further.