Omega-3 fats often make the news for their role in heart and brain health and as inflammation fighters. You may be aware that fish oil supplements and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines are good sources of omega-3s, but there are also many other foods that can provide this healthy, essential fat and can be added to your diet instead of, or in addition to, fish.
Nuts and Seeds
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil top the list of plant-based omega-3 foods and oils, with just 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed or 1 teaspoon of the oil supplying your daily requirement of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, an essential omega-3 fat. Walnuts and walnut oil are another rich source of omega-3s, as are canola oil and chia seeds. If you’re getting your omega-3s from flax, make sure you grind the seeds shortly before serving so you can absorb the nutrients, and keep the oil away from heat, which destroys the ALA in flaxseed oil, but not in other oils.
Beans, Veggies and Leafy Greens
Soybeans are another good source of omega-3 fat, along with tofu, which is made from soybeans, soymilk and edamame, which are young, green soybeans. Some green vegetables also have omega-3 fat, including bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli and salad greens. If you’re not a fish eater, try to incorporate some of these vegetables and some soy foods into your diet each week. Make a stir-fry with tofu and greens, add soybeans to chili or a salad, or snack on edamame.
Some manufacturers fortify margarine spreads with omega-3 fat, and there are eggs that have a higher omega-3 content. Often, the spreads have a blend of flax and other oils rich in omega-3s, and the eggs come from chickens that are fed a diet rich in flax seeds. If you drink dairy milk, stick to organic to get some omega-3s. Full-fat organic milk contains significantly more omega-3s than conventional milk because the cows that produce it graze on ALA-rich grass and legumes as part of their feeding regimen, according to a study published in "Plos One" in 2013.
Plants vs. Fish
Omega-3s are essential fats, which means you must get them from your diet. However, there’s a difference between omega-3s from fish, and those from plant sources. Whereas some plant foods and oils have the omega-3 fat ALA, fish has two different kinds of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. Your body can utilize these fats right away, but ALA has to be converted to EPA and DHA before your body can use it. Unfortunately, not all of it gets converted. It’s a good idea to eat a varied diet that includes fish, plant foods and healthy oils. If you don’t eat fish, make sure you get a good balance of nuts, seeds, ALA-rich oils and lots of other plant foods to ensure that you’re getting enough omega-3 fats.