Omega 3 Foods and Recipes: A Practical Guide

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:

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. 

Seafood

  • fish oil
  • cod liver oil
  • mackerel
  • sardines
  • anchovies
  • salmon
  • tuna
  • shrimp

Animal

  • gouda
  • feta
  • 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
  • lamb
  • pastured pork

It’s important to remember that animal foods source, the bioavailable omega-3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA.

Vegetables and Fruit

  • spinach 
  • seaweed
  • sour pickles
  • dill pickles
  • Brussels sprouts
  • mixed greens
  • broccoli 
  • green beans 
  • blackberries 
  • 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.

For our complete omega-3 food list, visit Nutrient Optimiser for more detail. 

Omega 3 Rich Recipes

Some examples of our NutriBooster recipes rich in omega 3 include:

What are the Symptoms of Omega-3 Deficiency? 

Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can mask themselves as commonplace signs and symptoms.  You may need more omega-3s if you experience:

Satiety Response to Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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.   

How much Omega-3 Do You Need?

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. 

Can You Overdose on Fish Oil and Omega-3s?

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.  

nutrientmenwomen
Omega-3s (g)7.05.6

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.   

Omega 6

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! 

Before the advent of agriculture, we would likely have obtained more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6.  However, the typical omega-6:omega-3 ratio is between 12:1 to 25:1 today.

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.  

Synergistic Nutrients

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.

Nutrient Profile of Foods High in Omega-3

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.

How Do I Calculate My Omega-3 Intake? 

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.  

After a week of tracking your current diet in Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will give you a prioritised list of foods and NutriBooster recipes that will help you plug your current nutritional gaps.

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

Minerals

Vitamins

Essential fatty acids                      

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