Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids



Article courtesy of Donna Hargrove, D.O., Nutrition Editor

Dietary Sources of Essential Fats EPA, DHA and ALA

The three most nutritionally beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are considered the best because they are 100% utilitzed by the body, while ALA must be converted to EPA or DHA before it can be used. These 3 fatty acids are essential because your body cannot make them and they must be consumed in the diet. Research suggests these omega-3 fatty acids are better absorbed by the body when obtained from food rather than from omega-3 supplements. Although fatty fish is known as the best source of omega-3s, there are many other foods that contain these health boosting fatty acids.

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for the development and function of the brain, eyes and nervous system. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet promotes heart health by lowering cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. They have also been shown to: reduce blood clotting in the arteries and protect from hardening of the arteries; reduce inflammation and stiff joints in those with arthritis; improve symptoms of depression; improve blood sugar levels in those with diabetes; and reduce the risk of developing certain diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may include fatigue, memory loss, dry skin, heart and circulation problems and depression.

Food Sources of EPA and DHA

EPA and DHA omega-3’s are mainly found in fish, especially cold-water, high-fat varieties such as:

  • Albacore tuna

  • Sardines

  • Salmon

  • Mackerel

  • Atlantic herring

  • Swordfish

  • Lake trout

Sources of Alpha-linolenic Acid

Approximately 35 percent of ALA found in food is converted to EPA and DHA. Good sources of ALA include:

  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil

  • Soybeans and soybean oil

  • Walnuts

  • Brazil nuts

  • Soy nuts

  • Olive oil

  • Hemp seeds

  • Pumpkin seeds


Omega-3 fatty acids are not only found in fish, nuts, seeds and oils. Fruits and vegetables that are good sources of omega-3s include: kidney beans, navy beans, tofu, winter and summer squash, certain berries such as raspberries and strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, romaine lettuce, and collard greens. Wheat germ and free-range beef and poultry are also good sources of omega-3’s.

If foods rich in ALA are the only dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, it is important to limit saturated and trans fats in the diet as both can interfere with the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.