Dear Dietitian, My father had heart disease, so I am careful about my diet. I eat right and exercise. I understand how important omega-3 fatty acids are for the heart, but I don’t like salmon, and some of the other fish high in omega-3s are expensive. Do you have any recommendations?

Thank you,

Teresa

Dear Teresa,

I commend you on being proactive in your healthy lifestyle. Salmon isn’t one of my favorites, either. The good news is there is more than one affordable fish in the sea. Various types of fish and seafood contain omega-s, though not as much as salmon.

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Most of the studies that link omega-3s to heart health are EPA and DHA. Small amounts of ALA (2-5%) can be converted to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are found in animal products, the highest amounts in fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines. ALA is found in plant foods, like flax seeds, tofu, and plant oils, such as canola oil.

Omega-3s are being studied for their effect on several diseases, such as depression, macular degeneration, and autoimmune disorders. Still, the most compelling results have been found on their impact on preventing heart disease.

While there is no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for omega-3s, many professional organizations have issued guidelines, but they vary widely. The lowest amount recommended is 250 mg/day. The American Heart Association recommends eating non-fried oily fish twice weekly to get your omega-3s (1). Another recommendation is to consume 8 ounces of variable seafood each week. The following table presents the amount of omega-3s in fish and seafood (2).

Food, 3 ounces, cooked    Grams Omega-3/serving

Herring, Atlantic    1.71

Trout, rainbow, wild    0.84

Shrimp    0.24

Salmon, Atlantic, farmed    1.83

Cod, Pacific    0.14

Oysters, eastern, wild    0.67

Tilapia    0.15

Tuna, light, canned in water    0.19

ALA is an essential nutrient, meaning our bodies need it for good health but cannot make it, so we must obtain it in our diet. Without it, a scaly rash on the skin and decreased growth in infants and children will occur. The Adequate Intake (AI) is 1.6 grams per day for men fifty-one years and older and 1.1 g per day for women in the same age range. ALA deficiencies are rare in the U.S. but were reported in the 1970s in those receiving intravenous feedings.

Many plant foods are rich sources of ALA. These foods are also high in fiber and other vitamins and minerals. You can find creative ways to add these foods to your omega-3 profile. Chia seeds add a nice crunch to smoothies or oatmeal. Ground flax seeds bring added nutrients to your morning cereal or afternoon yogurt. Tofu is another rich source of ALA. You can use it as your protein source in stir fry or add it to your favorite fruit for ice cream. Edamame has gained popularity in recent years. It makes a healthy snack; just roast it in the oven with a pinch of salt. You can also add it to salad as a protein source or serve it as a side dish.

Research has shown that consuming fish and seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of heart disease. That’s a recipe for a happy heart.

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian

References

1. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids (23 March 2017) https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids

2. Omega-3 fatty acids (1 October 2020) https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids

LEANNE MCCRATE, RDN, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at deardietitian411@gmail.com. Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.

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