Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are essential fats that perform many functions in our body such as protecting our heart and promoting brain, eye and nerve development. Omega-3 fats may also reduce the risk of a number of diseases and health conditions like cancer, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Since the body cannot produce omega-3 fats, choosing a variety of foods with omega-3 is key.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:

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ALA (Alpha-Linolenic-Acid)

ALA is mainly found in plant-based foods. As a vital nutrient for normal growth and development, ALA is converted by the body to EPA and DHA.

 

Foods with ALA

  • Flaxseeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Canola oil
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Foods enriched with omega-3 such as milk, margarine, and eggs

 

How Much ALA Do You Need? 

The amount of ALA you need will depend on your age and gender. If you have heart disease or are at risk for heart disease, your doctor may recommend a higher dosage of ALA. Refer to the table below to see the amount of ALA you need every day.

 

Recommended Daily Intake of ALA

Age Group Male Female
Birth to 6 months* 0.5g 0.5g
6 to 12 months* 0.5g 0.5g
1 to 3 years 0.7g 0.7g
4 to 8 years 0.9g 0.9g
9 to 13 years 1.2g 1.0g
14 to 18 years 1.6g 1.1g
19 years and up 1.6g 1.1g
19 years and up (Pregnancy) 1.4g
19 years and up (Lactation) 1.3g

*There is no established requirement specifically for ALA from birth to 12 months. The total required is for all forms of omega-3 fatty acids, which include ALA, EPA and DHA.

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EPA and DHA

EPA and DHA are essential fats that the body cannot produce. They must be obtained through food or dietary supplements. There are two ways to get EPA and DHA from food: by eating foods with ALA and eating foods with EPA and DHA.

 

Eating Foods With ALA

You can meet your daily recommended DHA and EPA intake by choosing a variety of plant-based foods with ALA as up to 15% of ALA is converted into EPA and DHA. For example, every tablespoon (15mL) of flaxseed oil provides almost the same amount of DHA/EPA as one piece of cooked wild Atlantic salmon (75g). This is an option for vegetarians and vegans who cannot obtain EPA and DHA from animal sources and those who want to obtain the nutrients from foods rather than from dietary supplements.

 

Foods With EPA and DHA

Fish, seafood and fish oil are rich in EPA and DHA. Eating 2 ½ ounce (75 grams) of fish twice a week provides a daily amount of 0.3 to 0.45g of EPA and DHA.

These sources have the highest amount of EPA and DHA:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Caviar (black, red)

 

How Much EPA and DHA Do You Need?

Whether you are generally healthy, at risk of heart disease or living with heart disease, the daily recommended amount of EPA and DHA is between 250mg and 500mg.

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