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Do You Need to Eat Fish to Get Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids (specifically long-chain EPA and DHA) are types of polyunsaturated fats that have anti-inflammatory properties linked to improved cardiovascular health, arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, weight management, and much more. Omega-6 fatty acids are another type of polyunsaturated fat that we need, but are pro-inflammatory if consumed in excessive amounts.

Our optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 2:1-4:1, but unfortunately our diets are typically 10:1-20:1! Clearly we need to up our omega-3 intake.

Where can we get omega-3s?

We can get omega-3 fatty acids in the form of EPA and DHA from fish (wild salmon, mackerel, sardines), sea vegetables, microalgae, eggs from chickens fed fish or flax, or in the form ALA from chia seeds, greens, hemp seeds, walnuts. ALA is less bioavailable than direct sources of EPA and DHA because we're only able to convert some of the ALA into EPA/DHA. Vegetarians/vegans are at higher risks of being low in omega-3s because their diets tend to have insufficient amounts of ALA, contain no EPA/DHA and are not well designed to maximize conversion of ALA into EPA/DHA.

The good news is, with a properly designed diet, you don't need fish to get adequate omega-3 intake. In fact, omega 3's are not even made from fish, they are made by the microalgae that they eat.

Easy tips to getting adequate omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Eat low-mercury fish, like wild salmon 2-3x/week, or aim for 2-4 grams of plant sources (ALA) daily (approximately 2 tablespoons of chia seeds).

  • If you suspect inadequate intake, supplement recommendations are 200-300 mg of DHA/EPA per day or 2-3x/week (if you're on blood thinners, check with your doctor before taking)

  • Maximize conversion from ALA by being aware of factors that suppress conversion (get plant/nutrient diversity and adequate protein, reduce consumption of trans fats and alcohol, avoid high fat diets, and reduce your intake of omega-6 fats).

  • The best way to reduce your consumption of omega-6 fats is by replacing omega-6 rich oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, and grapeseed oil with oils low in omega-6 such as olive oil or avocado oil, or consider omega-3 rich oils such as hempseed or flaxseed oil.

From the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy. *Flaxseeds should be ground

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