When and how to supplement with omega-3s
From salmon to seaweed, you can score some heart-healthy omega-3 fats from your diet. But how do you know if you’re getting enough—and what if seafood is not your favourite? Dietitians explain when and how to supplement with omega-3s.
Stroll down any grocery store aisles and you’ll spy labels shouting, “rich in omega-3s!” or “heart-healthy fats!”
Since they’re so great for your cardiovascular system and have been researched extensively over the past decade, chances are you’ve heard about omega-3 fats. But what are they, exactly, and why are they such a big deal? Read on to learn more, plus to discover if you might be falling short—and what to do about it.
What are Omega-3 Fats?
Omega-3′ is the broad term used to describe a group of healthy fats that our body needs to function optimally. They’re used to construct our cell membranes and make important hormones.
They also act as important building blocks for prostaglandins, a chemical messenger involved in the immune system, and are anti-inflammatory.
Since they’re essential for the body to survive and run on all cylinders, omega-3s are deemed “essential.” We can’t make enough of these nutrients on our own, so we must consume them through food or supplemental sources.
Where to Get Omega-3 Fats
The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements lists these as the best sources of omega-3 fats:
- Flaxseed oil: 7,260 milligrams per tablespoon
- Chia seeds: 5,060 milligrams per ounce
- English walnuts: 2,570 milligrams per ounce
- Whole flaxseeds: 2,350 milligrams per ounce
- Atlantic salmon: 1,830 milligrams per 3 ounces
- Atlantic herring: 1,570 milligrams per 3 ounces
- Canola oil: 1,280 milligrams per tablespoon
- Canned sardines in tomato sauce: 1,290 milligrams per 3 ounces drained
Two or more servings of fatty fish a week should cover your bases.
When to Supplement with Omega-3s
Most Indians score less than the recommended 1,100 mg for women and 1,600 mg for men per day through diet. Deficiencies are especially common if you don’t eat (or eat much) seafood.
But even though most of us don’t get enough omega-3s, a full fatty acid deficiency (EPA and DHA levels less than 4% of total fatty acid in the blood) is extremely rare. Still, many studies suggest that a large portion of us may benefit from more omega-3s. A simple at-home blood test like the Omega Quant Omega-3 Index Test can give you data to share with your doctor to decide together if supplementation is necessary.
Older people, pregnant women and those suffering from cardiovascular conditions are particularly encouraged to consider supplementation. They’re also important during pregnancy and lactation—DHA transfers readily through the placenta and breast milk to provide a variety of health benefits to the baby.
If your doctor does recommend omega-3 supplementation, keep these pro tips from Fine and Jordan in mind:
- Seek out a high-quality, third-party tested brand
- Algae oil is ideal for vegetarians and vegans
- Shark Liver Oil is extremely sustainable, so you may want to consider that over regular fish oil
- Take omega-3 supplements with a meal alongside other sources of fat to help increase absorption
This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician.