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How to Get Your Omega-3s and Why They're Important

Are omega-3 fats important and how do I get more of them into my diet?

What are omega-3 fats exactly, and why are they important to your health? Your body does a great job of producing the majority of the kinds of fats you need from raw materials or supplementary fats. However, your body is not able to make omega-3 fats, which is why they are referred to as “essential fatty acids” — you must get them from food. However, a whopping 91% of Americans are actually deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.

Let’s take a look at why omega-3 fats are important to your health and how to easily get more of them in your diet.

Why Do You Need Them?

Research continues to discover all sorts of health benefits that omega-3 fatty acids bestow:

- Healthy heart rhythm

- Lower blood pressure and heart rate

- Improve function of your blood vessels

- Lower triglycerides

- Ease inflammation

- Curb joint stiffness and pain, as with rheumatoid arthritis

- Boost mood and lower depression

- Help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

- Promote eye health and prevention of macular degeneration

- May help prevent cancer

- May reduce asthma symptoms in children

- May improve sleep quality

- Boost skin health and assist in sun protection

Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats

- Fatty Fish — look for salmon, halibut, herring, mackerel, lake trout, rainbow trout, albacore tuna, Arctic cod, sardines, oysters, anchovies, mussels, squid, clams, and oils made from these types of fish.

- Flaxseeds and Flaxseed Oil — One tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains 7483 mg of omega-3 fats, while one tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains 1597 mg.

- Chia Seeds — Abundant in antioxidants, fiber (a 25 gram serving gives you about seven grams of fiber), calcium, iron, copper, phosphorus, molybdenum, zinc, niacin, magnesium, and manganese, chia seeds pack a lot of nutrition in a tiny punch. A one-ounce serving provides an impressive 4915 mg of omega-3 fats.

- Enriched Eggs — When hens are fed flaxseed, they produce eggs with twelve times more omega-3 fats than regular eggs (on average, about 500 mg per egg) and contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals. Eggs are also versatile, convenient, and affordable, and at 70 calories, you can’t beat them (or maybe you can if you like your eggs scrambled).

- Canola Oil — One tablespoon of this versatile oil yields 1279 mg of omega-3 fats.

- Walnuts — these nutrient champions contain the most omega-3 fats of any nut (2542 mg per ounce, about seven walnuts). Walnuts are also chock-full of vitamin E, copper, and manganese. In a nutshell, walnuts are super nutrient-dense and can easily be tossed in a salad, added to a whole-grain pasta dish, used as a crunchy yogurt topping, or roasted and snacked on whole.

- Edamame — This vegetarian source of omega-3 fats is also a good source of filling-fiber and hunger-squashing protein and also contains folate, vitamin K, potassium, riboflavin, and magnesium. Enjoy a cup of steamed or boiled soybeans to get 560 mg of omega-3 fats.

- Grass-Fed Beef — Cattle that live on a grass-based diet (as opposed to a grain-based diet) produce meat that is twice as high in omega-3 fatty acids. A three and a half ounce portion of grass-fed beef contains 80 mg of omega-3 fats. This is not nearly as much as most of the other sources listed above, but it is something to consider when selecting what type of beef you purchase (grass-fed versus conventional).

How Much Do I Need?

Experts recommend eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week (one serving is three ounces cooked). More specifically, nutrition and medical professionals suggest that you replace two servings of red or processed meat with fatty fish rather than just adding them to your diet. To simply avoid deficiency, you need a minimum of 500 mg of omega-3 fats per day. To support proper brain, heart, and mental health, you need to get 1,000 mg each day. To be proactive and gain the most nutritional benefit for brain, heart, mental, and immune health, aim for 2,000 - 4,000 mg per day.

What About Supplements?

If you can’t get enough omega-3 fats from food due to a fish or nut allergy, a vegetarian or vegan diet, or because you simply don’t enjoy those foods, you can reach the recommended amount with supplements. As with all supplements, to ensure that you are actually getting what the product advertises on its label, look for products that have been tested by an independent, third-party lab. Seek out supplements that have received a seal of approval from the United States Pharmacopeial Convention, which is an independent, not-for-profit organization of scientists that establishes high standards for food ingredients, medicines, and dietary supplements. The NSF International is another not-for-profit organization that independently guarantees supplement ingredients.

[Image via Getty]

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