How many omega-3s does your dinner have?

As I approach my third trimester, I’m becoming a bit of an omega-3 fiend. The unsaturated fatty acids have not only been tied to lower heart disease risk in adults, but they have also been shown to boost fetal brain development, especially when consumed in the final few months of pregnancy. Given that I’m not much of a cold water fish fan—the thought of chewing a mouthful of sardines makes me want to gag—I’ve been looking into how else to get them, and what I’ve uncovered has surprised me.

I had always assumed that fish were the best way to go. Don’t get me wrong, they do contain a lot: cooked fresh salmon and canned sardines provide 1.7 and 1.8 grams of omega-3s per four ounce serving, respectively. But as it turns out, some seeds and nuts and their oils pack even more of an omega punch. One ounce of walnuts, for instance, contains 2.6 grams of omega 3s—ounce for ounce, six times more than fresh salmon—and an ounce of flaxseeds provides 1.8 grams. Their oils are fabulous too: a tablespoon of walnut oil contains 1.4 grams, and flaxseed oil has a whopping 6.9 grams (you’d have to eat nearly a whole pound of canned sardines to get that—eww!). Don’t be fooled thinking that olive oil is better, either. It contains just 0.1 grams per tablespoon.

For a breakdown of some common foods and their omega 3 contents, check out this site maintained by Tufts University.


PSOTA, T., GEBAUER, S., & KRISETHERTON, P. (2006). Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Cardiovascular Risk The American Journal of Cardiology, 98 (4), 3-18 DOI: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2005.12.022

JACOBSON, J., JACOBSON, S., MUCKLE, G., KAPLANESTRIN, M., AYOTTE, P., & DEWAILLY, E. (2008). Beneficial Effects of a Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid on Infant Development: Evidence from the Inuit of Arctic Quebec The Journal of Pediatrics, 152 (3), 356-3640 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2007.07.008

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14 Responses to How many omega-3s does your dinner have?

  1. firebus says:

    Sure, there are plant sources of Omega-3s. However, my understanding is that only animal sources of Omega-3 (EPA and DHA, as opposed to the ALA found in plant sources of Omega-3) have been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease.

    I have no idea if the same is true for fetal brain development, but it would be worth reviewing the literature before assuming that plant sources are going to give the same benefit as fish sources. Skimming the abstract, it looks like the study you cite measured DHA, not ALA.

  2. Hi Russ: You raise some excellent questions, which I wilI look into asap. Stay tuned for another possible blog post! Thanks so much.

  3. Jim Birch says:

    Omega-3 is a chemical class. The fish omega3 is different to plant sources and plant sources have different mixes to each other. From what I’ve read you are better off taking flax seed if you don’t eat fish, but fish oil is the real deal.

  4. Aimstar says:

    Omega 3 is very interesting to find Aqua refrigerator synergistic with offline.

  5. Jim says:

    I recall reading a study a couple of years ago that concluded our endogenous conversion efficiency to EPA/DHA was dismal, about 15%. I also believe this still holds true: the benefits attributed to omega-3s have only been confirmed for EPA & DHA.

    Do I still eat tons of walnuts and enjoy flax? You bet. However, I supplement with fish oil because that’s where the science is.

  6. Julie says:

    Be careful eating fish. Many are supposed to be limited for reasons unrelated to fatty acids. You run the risk of contamination with many of them. (Tuna, some salmon, and many others)

  7. Rob says:

    15% is not dismal – when you consider 1 tbsp of flaxseed oil has 6-7g of ALA, 15% conversion is fantastic. 15% is higher than I’ve read research studies report though – from what I’ve read, we can convert 2-5% of ALA into DHA and 5-10% into EPA. For example:
    Gerster H. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)?Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1998;68(3):159-73. Review.
    If you take 1-2 tbsp of flaxseed oil per day this is still a significant amount. There are a lot of factors in how well this conversion happens: gender, diet, genetics, and state of health being the main ones. There is also some evidence vegetarians have their conversion ability upregulated:
    Welch AA, et al. Dietary intake and status of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in a population of fish-eating and non-fish-eating meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans and the precursor-product ratio of α-linolenic acid to long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: results from the EPIC-Norfolk cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1040-51.
    There are also algae based sources of DHA and EPA available now – which is where the fish originally got theirs from. The algae is also cultivated on land and nicely avoids any issues to do with fish stock depletion or ocean borne heavy metal contamination.

  8. molly says:

    Flax seeds and chia seeds are also great sources for Omega 3. The benefit of flax seed and the benefit of chia seeds are many. Both flax seed and chia seeds contain fiber, Omega-3 and lignans. This helps lower cholesterol and can also benefit people at risk for diabetes by regulating blood sugar by slowing down the body’s absorption of sugar. Flax seed and chia seeds are also both great sources for antioxidants.

  9. Kinjal Desai says:

    As per my understanding Fish is the best source, women have a better ability then men to convert ALA to actual DHA/EPA.

    Better Go By :
    Vegetarian : Any “Life’s DHA” products like Deva Vega, Ovega, etc
    Non-Veg : Concentrated Fish Oil. best Nordic Natural’s Pre. DHA

    My honey (husband) has done too much research, believe me….

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  11. Bob Greene says:

    Flax seed oil contains short-chain O3’s, whereas fish oil contains long-chain O3’s. While the difference with heart disease and other maladies is not well-established, individuals vary widely in conversion of short to long chains. As a reliable source of long-chain O3’s, salmon is probably the best source.

    The problem with ascending the food chain with fatty, cold-water fish is the increasing concentration of environmental toxins in fish fat. The higher the O3 concentration in fish tissue , the more likely it carries a heavier toxic burden, as well.

    As poster “Rob” points out, below, algae is the source of O3 content in salmon, and by supplementation with algae instead of fish, a person avoids the toxins. That is, provided the algae is cultivated under controlled conditions, and not itself a sea-sourced algae.

  12. Deon Buttaro says:

    Flaxseed was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC. In the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it. Now, thirteen centuries later, some experts say we have preliminary research to back up what Charlemagne suspected.-:

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