Omega-3s are a family of essential, unsaturated fatty acids found readily in fish and seafood.
They are omega ‘3s’ because there is a double bond between the third and second carbons from the end of the fatty acid chain.
Roles of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in The Body
This family of essential fatty acids helps to:
- support heart health,
- manage pain,
- work as a natural blood thinner,
- support sperm health,
- reduce inflammation,
- support brain health,
- normalise cognition and memory,
- synthesise healthy cell membranes,
- improve liver health,
- regulate the immune response,
- improve the functioning of your nervous system,
- promote neurotransmitter balance,
- relieve depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, autism,
- improve sleep, and
- help to balance hormones.
- Roles of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in The Body
- Bioavailability of Omega-3s
- Highest Omega 3 Foods List
- Omega 3 Rich Recipes
- What are the Symptoms of Omega-3 Deficiency?
- Satiety Response to Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- How much Omega-3 Do You Need?
- Can You Overdose on Fish Oil and Omega-3s?
- Optimal Omega-3 Intake
- Omega-3: Omega-6 Ratio
- Omega 6
- Synergistic Nutrients
- Nutrient Profile of Foods High in Omega-3
- How Do I Calculate My Omega-3 Intake?
Bioavailability of Omega-3s
The three most well-known omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
ALA is the inactive form of omega-3s found in plant oils, whereas DHA and EPA are the active forms of omega-3s and are predominantly found in animal foods.
The body can synthesise some EPA and DHA from ALA. However, the conversion is relatively inefficient, similar to beta carotene and retinol (vitamin A). Thus, consuming EPA and DHA from foods is extremely important. Essentially, we are allowing the animal to convert omega-3s for us.
Omega-3 is a nutrient that strict vegans and some vegetarians struggle to obtain in adequate quantities, in a bioavailable form, because there is no complete plant-based supplement.
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% to DHA. On the other hand, healthy women can convert up to 21% of ALA to EPA and 9% to DHA.
Given 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 to get enough bioavailable omega-3.
Highest Omega 3 Foods List
Foods that contain more omega-3 fatty acids are typically oily fish. However, some other popular sources of omega 3 are listed below.
- fish oil
- cod liver oil
- chicken drumstick
- Mozzarella cheese
- chicken breast
- chicken thigh
- pork cracklings
- sirloin steak
- whole eggs
- yogurt plain
- half and half milk
- cheddar cheese
- grass-fed beef
- pastured pork
It’s important to remember that animal foods source, the bioavailable omega-3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA.
- sour pickles
- dill pickles
- Brussels sprouts
- mixed greens
- green beans
- flax seeds (and oil)
- almonds (and oil)
- chia seeds
- hazelnuts (and oil)
While plant foods may contain some omega-3 fatty acids, they are in their inactive alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) form. Thus, they are not bioavailable.
Omega 3 Rich Recipes
Some examples of our NutriBooster recipes rich in omega 3 include:
- salmon bites
- chia porridge
- flaxseed porridge with blueberries
- quick baked salmon (pictured below)
- seared tuna with herb salsa & avocado
Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can mask themselves as commonplace signs and symptoms. You may need more omega-3s if you experience:
- dry skin,
- heart disease,
- age-related macular degeneration,
- cognitive problems,
- personality disorder,
- bipolar disorder,
- premenstrual cramps,
- autoimmune conditions,
- dry hair or dandruff,
- poor memory or learning difficulties,
- anxiety, or
- inflammatory health problems like arthritis, high blood cholesterol, depression, PMS, breast pain or water retention.
Although omega-3s are essential, we only have a relatively weak satiety response to foods and meals that contain more of them, based on our satiety analysis.
People consuming more omega-3-rich foods tend to consume around 5% fewer calories than those who consume fewer foods high in omega-3s.
While omega-3s are essential and beneficial, it’s not just the omega-3s that provide the satiety benefit but also the other nutrients, particularly protein, that come with seafood.
The US Dietary Guidelines set a minimum intake of omega-3s at 1.1 g per day for women and 1.6 g per day for men.
Meanwhile, the Australian guidelines are much lower and only recommend 0.16 g per day of omega-3 fatty acids.
For reference, the average Optimiser intake is well above this, with 3.1 g of omega-3 fatty acids per 2000 calories.
While it is difficult to overdose on omega-3 fatty acids from food alone, some mild side effects can occur if supplementing omega-3s.
Although flaxseed oil is generally well-tolerated, high doses may cause diarrhea. In addition, allergic and anaphylactic reactions have been reported with flaxseed and flaxseed oil ingestion.
No severe adverse reactions have been reported in those using fish oil or other EPA and DHA supplements. However, it can cause a risk for nosebleeds and uncontrolled bleeding if consumed in high amounts because of its blood-thinning effect.
A more common side effect of EPA and DHA supplements is a fishy aftertaste, depending on the product.
Optimal Omega-3 Intake
Based on the actual intake of Optimisers, we have set an omega-3 stretch target of 5.6 g per day for women and 7.0 g per day for men from food.
Once you have started to get the hang of nutrient density, you could ‘level up’ by focusing on these stretch targets to truly optimise your nutrition.
Omega-3: Omega-6 Ratio
Rather than worrying about your omega-3 fatty acid intake, it may be more critical to manage the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids because omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids compete to use the same conversion enzymes.
The satiety response chart below shows that people who consume foods with an omega 6:3 ratio of 0.5 consume 24% fewer calories than those with an omega 6:3 ratio of 3.0.
In practice, a low omega 6:3 ratio is challenging to achieve, as shown in the distribution chart below. The median omega 6:3 ratio from our Optimiser data is 5.1, and few people are consuming less than 3:1.
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 excess omega-6 and little omega-3 will increase inflammation. Conversely, a diet of a lot of omega-3 and sparse omega-6 will reduce inflammation.
As shown in the chart below, over the past hundred years, our intake of omega-6 oils like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated seed oils has been booming!
Even if you avoid bread and vegetable oils, the omega-6: omega-3 ratio in the food system is still high. Foods from animals fed on grains, including farmed fatty fish, contain elevated amounts of omega-6s, too.
Omega-3 fatty acids work synergistically with vitamins A, B3, B6, E, gamma-tocopherol, bioflavonoids, magnesium, methionine, quercetin, selenium, and zinc. For this reason, we recommend consuming nutrient-dense foods to get a complete spectrum of nutrients. This ensures that the body has the full array of vitamins and minerals that work in tandem to allow omega-3s to do their job.
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.
If you’re interested in checking if you’re getting enough omega-3s (and not too much omega-6) in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
Level Up Your Nutrient Density
To help you level up your nutrient density, we’ve prepared a Nutritional Optimisation Starter Pack to ensure you are getting plenty of all the essential nutrients from the food you eat every day.
The free starter pack includes:
- Maximum Nutrient Density Food List
- Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Recipe Book
- Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Meal Plan.
To get started today, all you have to do is join our new Optimising Nutrition Group here.
Once you join, you will find the Nutritional Optimisation starter pack in the discovery section here.
Nutrient Density Index
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1