Research has shown that diets with the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have many health benefits, from lowering the chance of heart attacks to fending off eye disease. Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids is one way to make sure you achieve that balance. Fatty cold-water fish are one of the best dietary sources for these heart-healthy fats.
Salmon is a cold-water fish known for being rich in heart-health fats. Fresh or frozen, salmon has a high level of omega-3 fatty acid, with more than one gram per three-ounce serving. Concerns about overfishing of salmon and mercury levels may make picking the right kind of salmon tricky. Wild Alaskan salmon tend to have the lowest mercury levels, while Atlantic salmon is endangered by overfishing.
Sardines are one of the best choices for fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Most sardines have at least one gram of this fat per serving, up to 1.7 grams. Sardines also tend to be low in mercury and other contaminants.
Mackerel is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, with most varieties giving one gram or more of the good fat per three-ounce serving. However, king mackerel is relatively low in omega-3 while also having one of the highest mercury levels among fish. Varieties like Spanish, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel are high in omega-3 while being low in mercury.
Flounder and its relative sole have about half a gram of omega-3 per serving. They also tend to be low in mercury levels.
Herring can contain as much as two grams of omega-3 in a three-ounce serving. A small fish low on the food chain, herring also tends to be low in mercury.
Fish Oil Capsules
Those who don't like the taste of fish or who are concerned about contaminants can also consider fish oil capsules. According to information from the National Institutes of Health, testing of fish oil supplements has shown they contain almost no mercury. Taking fish oil capsules can cause stomach upset and "fishy" tasting burps, but this can be minimized by taking the supplements with a meal.
In general, fatty cold-water fish tend to have the highest omega-3 concentrations. The National Institutes of Health and other health organizations say that the benefits of taking in heart-healthy fats from fish almost always outweighs the risk of consuming mercury or other contaminants. If you're concerned about contaminants, stick to varieties known to be low in mercury and have only one or two servings of fish per week. You can also seek out non-fish sources of omega 3, such as walnuts and flax seeds.