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Fish Oil: The heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3s

By: Kristine San Miguel, MDFish Oil: The heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3s

When it comes to fat, there's one type you don’t want to cut back on: The omega-3s. Two crucial ones EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are primarily found in certain fish while another omega-3 fatty acid, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. Not only does your body need these fatty acids to function, but also they deliver some big health benefits.

How can fatty acids help you?

  • Protects your heart. Some studies show that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may help reduce several risk factors for heart disease. Fish oil is linked to lower levels of triglycerides (fats in the blood) and helps prevent or treat hardening of the arteries by slowing production of plaque or blood clots.
  • Lowers cholesterol. The omega-3s help reduces triglyceride levels (fats in the blood), which leads to higher HDL levels, or "good cholesterol."
  • Benefits your bones. Studies showed that the fatty acids appeared to increase the amount of calcium the body absorbs and diminish the amount of calcium lost in urine. This promotes bone strength and growth.
  • May ease menstrual pain. A small study over four months found that young women who took a fish oil supplement reported less menstrual pain than when given a placebo.
  • Treat mental illness. A group of studies suggested that the omega-3s found in fish oil had a positive effect on people with primary depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
  • May help regulate diabetes. New research found that the omega-3s in fish oil supplements increased levels of adiponectin in the bloodstream, a hormone that aids in glucose regulation.
  • May reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Studies suggest the omega-3s found in fish oil may reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes painful inflammation of the joints.

How much omega-3 is right?

It’s virtually impossible to get too much omega-3 from your diet. Next to flax seed, oily fish is by far the most significant source of omega-3s (and the general principle is the colder the water, the more omega-3 in the fish). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week. Other foods high in omega-3s are as follows:

1: Flaxseed Oil (Cold Pressed) 

Omega-3 100g

Per cup (218g)

Per tablespoon (14g)




Other Vegetable Oils High in Omega-3 (per tablespoon): Canola Oil (1279mg), and Soybean Oil (950mg).

2: Fish Oil (Salmon) 

Omega-3 100g

Per tablespoon (14g)

Per teaspoon (5g)




Other Fish Oils High in Omega-3 (per tablespoon): Menhaden (4114mg), Sardine (3611mg), Cod Liver Oil (2763mg), and Herring (1876mg).

3: Chia Seeds 

Omega-3 100g

Per 2oz (56g)

Per ounce (28g)




Flaxseeds are also high in Omega 3s providing 6388mg per ounce or 2281mg per tablespoon.

4: Walnuts & Walnut Oil (Walnuts) 

Omega-3 100g

Per cup, pieces (120g)

Per ounce (28g)




Other Nuts High in Omega-3 (per ounce): Butternuts (2441mg), Black Walnuts (750mg), Beechnuts (476mg), Hickory Nuts (293mg), Pecans (289mg), Pine Nuts (220mg), Pistachios (73mg), and Macadamia Nuts (58mg). Walnut Oil contains (1456mg) per tablespoon. 

5: Fish Roe (Caviar) 

Omega-3 100g

Per ounce (28g)

Per tablespoon (16g)




Fish Roe from most species provides 342mg of Omega 3s per tablespoon (14g).

6: Cured & Canned Fish (Smoked Salmon) 

Omega-3 100g

Per fillet (108g)

Per ounce (28g)




Other Cured & Canned Fish High in Omega-3 (per ounce): Salted Mackerel (1504mg), Kippered Herring (705mg), Canned Anchovy (609mg), Canned Mackerel (403mg), Canned Salmon (375mg), and Canned Sardines (310mg).

7: Oily Fish (Mackerel) 

Omega-3 100g

Per fillet (112g)

Per 3oz (85g)




Other Fish High in Omega-3 (per 3oz): American Shad (2396mg), Farmed Salmon (2234mg), Salmon (2151mg), Wild Salmon (1545mg), Herring (1564mg), Anchovy (1827mg), Tuna (1457mg), Halibut (1242mg), Trout (1065mg), and Swordfish (913mg). 

8: Seafood (Oysters) 

Omega-3 100g

Per 3 ounces (85g)

In a medium oyster (25g)




Other Seafood High in Omega-3 (per ounce): Mussels (762mg), Squid (470mg), and Clams (357mg).

9: Soybeans (Roasted) 

Omega-3 100g

Per cup (172g)

Per ounce (28g)




Other Soy Foods High in Omega-3 (per ounce): Dried-Frozen Tofu (Koyadofu) (567mg), Fried Tofu (377mg), Raw Firm Tofu (163mg), and Fuyu (Fermented Tofu) (150mg).

10: Spinach (Cooked, Boiled)

Omega-3 100g

Per cup (190g)

1 cup raw (30g)




Other Vegetables High in Omega-3 (per cup, cooked without added oil): Winter Squash (664mg), Brussels Sprouts (270mg), Cauliflower (208mg), Kale (163mg), and Broccoli (151mg). 

Should you supplement?

Fish oil has both EPA and DHA, while algae oil has DHA and may be a good option for people who don't eat fish. Talk to your doctor about taking a supplement first. He may have specific recommendations, or warnings, depending on your health and the other medicines you take.

People with heart disease are usually advised to take 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) daily of a combination DHA /EPA from fish oil. People with some health conditions may take doses of up to 4 grams a day but only under a doctor's supervision.

The most common side effects from fish oil are indigestion and gas. Getting a supplement with a coating might help. Omega-3 supplements (DHA/EPA) can also make bleeding more likely. If you have a bleeding condition or take medicines that could increase bleeding, talk to your doctor.

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