But, here’s the thing about omega-3 fatty acids: our bodies don’t make them on their own. And, despite their many benefits, studies show that we generally don’t get enough of them; in the last 80 years, there’s been an 80 percent decrease in intake among adults. So, it’s more important than ever to consume them intentionally—either through our diets or via supplements.
“Omega-3s are essential for the structure of cell membranes,” emphasizes Randazzo Kirschner. “They have wide-ranging functions in the body’s cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems, and have been shown to have important anti-inflammatory and immune functions.”
Fat is your friend
Studies find that eating fish really is your best bet when it comes to getting the superstar omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. And, since fish oil comes from fat, it’s all about those fatty fish: salmon, trout, oysters, herring, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and sea bass.
It is possible to get this all-important good fat from other sources. “Another type of omega-3 fatty acid is ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) which can be found in plant foods,” says Randazzo Kirschner. “Some foods that are rich in ALA include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil, canola, and soybean oils.” However, she notes that it can be challenging to get an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids from these foods. “The body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA, but only in very small amounts,” she says. “So, although these foods are not guaranteed to provide as much EPA and DHA, they’re still an option.”
To that end, both she and Dr. Chen recommends amping up the DHA and EPA with algal oil supplements. “Algal is derived from algae, which is the primary source of EPA and DHA for fish, so consuming it directly is a great source for EPA and DHA without the need to consume fish,” Dr. Chen explains. In other words, algal oil is entirely plant-based, so vegans and vegetarians, take note.
For everyone else, Randazzo Kirschner says that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids can be achieved through diet—as long as you’re thoughtful about what you consume. “For breakfast, dress up your fruit-filled oatmeal with chia or sprinkle flax or hemp seeds on your nut butter toast,” she recommends. “Then, lunch can be a salad topped with a piece of salmon and walnuts or a smoked salmon sandwich with a side of walnuts and fruit.” For dinner, she suggests a piece of fatty fish like mackerel or trout with quinoa, flaxseeds, and your favorite veggies.
A good catch
If that sounds like way more fish than you’d like to consume everyday, that’s understandable—and also totally okay. Studies say that eating fish just one to two times a week is sufficient in terms of receiving the heart-health benefits of fish oil.