Omega 3 Fats belong to a broader group of fats called polyunsaturated fats. The best studied Omega 3 Fats are EPA and DHA. These Omega 3 fats are important in our diet because our bodies cannot make them from scratch, so we need to consume them (1).
Proper function of our nervous system—including our brain—depends on the presence of DHA in our bodies. DHA is particularly important to brain function (1). Our brain is 60% fat by weight, and DHA makes up an average of 15 to 20% of all fat in our brain. Drops in brain DHA levels can impair cognitive function or slower neurological development in children. Nervous system deficiencies of DHA have been associated with a wide variety of problems, including neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease; cognitive problems including reasoning ability in children; and severity of multiple sclerosis. Your risk of excessive inflammation and inflammation-related disease can be lowered through consumption of foods rich in the Omega 3 Fat EPA (1).
Ultimately our immune, inflammatory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems simply cannot function correctly without sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA. The most crucial role for omega-3 fatty acids in health is arguably in prevention of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke (1).
Omega 3 vs Omega 6 Balance
Omega-6 fats are more plentiful in foods than omega-3 fats. Because they are more plentiful, we often find ourselves consuming much more of them. Yet high consumption of omega-6 fats can directly reduce the amount of Omega 3 fats converted within our body (EPA and DHA) (1). Omega-6 fats are considered quite inflammatory, whereas Omega-3 fats are considered anti-inflammatory (1).
There is good evidence that the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is important to human health; and that a diet high in omega-6 fats and oils and low in omega-3s (particularly the long-chain omega-3s of EPA and DHA) may increase the risk of certain chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (1).
Tips for increasing Omega 3
- Try and limit your total daily consumption ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fats, to 1:4 (1)
- Consider increasing your intake of nuts (like walnuts) or seeds (like flaxseeds). Including these on a daily basis can work well in most meal plans.
- If you choose to avoid all animal foods (including seafoods), you may require possible supplementation with omega-3s.
- If you consume animal foods but avoid seafoods, take extra care in selection of EPA- and DHA-containing animal foods. Animals that have consumed healthy amounts of omega-3s in their diet will be the most likely to contain EPA and DHA. Generally, these animals will have been raised in a natural setting throughout their lives and pasture-fed on a variety of grasses, and other plants.
- If your diet includes fish, 2-3 servings per week is a good target level for bringing fish-based EPA and DHA into your meal plan.
Foods high in Omega 3
|Food||Serving||Omega 3 (g)|
Ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 in foods (Foods with higher Omega 3 vs Omega 6)
|Food||Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio||Food||Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio|
|Queen Crab||61||Peppermint Herb||6.3|
|Canned Salmon or Tuna||32||Papaya||4.3|
|Sea Bass, Cod||30||Flaxseeds||3.9|
|Whiting, Perch Fish||27||Chinese Broccoli||3.4|
|Mussels, Oysters, Tuna||25||Chia Seeds||3.1|
|Cod Liver oil||21||Mango||2.7|
|Clams, Salmon||13||French, String, Snap Beans||1.7|
|Canned Sardines||12||Broad beans||1.5|
Omega 6:3 Content of Nuts
|Nuts||Omega 6:3 Ratio||Oils||Omega 6:3 Ratio|
|Walnuts||4.2 : 1||Flaxseed Oil||0.24 : 1|
|Macadamia||6.3 : 1||Canola Oil||2 : 1|
|Pecans||21 : 1||Walnut Oil||5 : 1|
|Pine Nuts||32 : 1||Olive Oil||13 : 1|
|Pistachio||52 : 1||Sunflower Oil||19 : 1|
|Hazelnuts||90 : 1||Corn Oil||46 : 1|
|Pumpkin Seeds||114 : 1||Sesame Oil||138 : 1|
|Cashews||126 : 1||Grapeseed Oil||696 : 1|
|Sunflower Seeds||472 : 1||Peanut Oil||No Omega 3|
|Almonds||No Omega 3||Safflower Oil||No Omega 3|
|Peanuts||No Omega 3||Coconut Oil||No Omega 3|
- Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy8 (2002): 365-379.