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How can I get more omega-3 fatty acids in my daily meals?

You can rely on the World's Healthiest Foods to get you "over the top" on your daily omega-3 fatty acid consumption! While that may seem like a bold claim since the average American adult gets less than 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids per day, many of the World's Healthiest Foods are great sources when it comes to providing substantial amounts of this important nutrient. Walnuts, flaxseeds, beans, fish, olive oil and winter squash constitute part of the cornucopia of foods that will provide you with concentrated sources of omega-3 fats.

Recommendations for omega-3 consumption

To date, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences has not yet issued any Dietary Reference Intakes for omega-3 fats. Recently, however, the National Institutes of Health recommended that people consume at least 2% of their total daily calories as omega-3 fats. To meet this recommendation, a person consuming 2000 calories per day would have to eat at least 2 grams of omega-3 fats. Many nutrition experts believe that this recommendation is not high enough, and would suggest, instead, that people consume at least 4% of their total calories (approximately 4 grams) as omega-3 fats.

Food sources of omega-3 fats - flaxseeds and walnuts

At the top of our list for increasing omega-3s would be flaxseeds and walnuts. One-quarter cup of flaxseeds contains about 6.3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids while one-quarter cup of walnuts contains about 2.7 grams. In either case, the amount is pretty substantial. Therefore by combining one-quarter cup of walnuts with a tablespoon of flaxseeds you will add close to the recommended 4 grams of omega-3 fats to your diet.

Food sources of omega-3 fats - beans

Flax seeds and walnuts are not your only choices, of course! One cup's worth of soybeans, navy beans, or kidney beans provides between 200 and 1,000 milligrams of omega-3s (0.2 to 1.0 grams). A four-ounce serving of tofu will provide over 0.6 grams of omega-3s. Therefore, these foods provide between 10% and 50% of the National Institutes of Health recommendation, and a substantial step up from the average U.S. adult intake.

A special note about SDA soybeans: Late in 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted approval for inclusion of a new genetically-modified form of soybean oil called "SDA soybean oil" on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) List. Monsanto - the company which patented the new soybean oil - took genes from a flower (Primula juliae) and from red bread mold (Neurospora crassa) and inserted them into soybeans in such a way that an omega-3 fatty acid called stearidonic acid (SDA) could be produced by the soybeans and become a part of the soybeans' fat content. Since SDA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, its added presence in these soybeans and soybean oil might be considered by some consumers as a good way to get increased omega-3 nourishment. However, we do not recommend genetically modified foods of any kind as a way to support better nourishment, and SDA soybeans would be included in our list of genetically modified foods that are best avoided.

Food sources of omega-3 fats - fish, winter squash and olive oil

Three other types of foods are important to mention as omega 3 boosters: fish, winter squash, and olive oil. In the case of fish, you'll get about 1.3 grams from every 4 ounce serving of Chinook salmon and over 1.4 grams from sardines. A cup of this winter squash will provide you almost 0.2 grams. For extra virgin olive oil, the amount of omega 3s per ounce is about 0.1 grams.

With both olive oil and fish, stay away from frying. Frying with olive oil will damage the omega-3s and deprive you of their health benefits. So will the frying of fish—even fish that contain omega-3s. In a research study that compared consumption of fried versus nonfried fish and risk of atherosclerosis, consumption of fried fish was found to offer no health protection to the study participants, even when the fish contained omega-3 fats.

Practical tips

When it comes to increasing your omega-3 fatty acids intake, don't worry about bringing your calculator to the kitchen. All you have to do is to focus on bringing more omega 3 rich foods into your diet.

Eating fish and seafood such as salmon, halibut, tuna and scallops a few times a week is an easy way to increase your omega-3 intake. Plus you'll get all of the other nutritional benefits that these foods have to offer.

As noted, walnuts and flaxseeds can be important contributors to an omega-3 rich diet. To increase your intake of these foods, adding this nut-seed combination to salads, baked potatoes or granola is just one of the many ways to easily incorporate these foods into your meal plan. Additionally, if you grind nut butters at home, they could also be used in the above ratio as a nut-seed blend. (Although it is somewhat difficult to clean, a standard coffee bean grinder usually does fairly well as a nut-seed grinder than can produce a very creamy buttery blend.) If you like your nuts roasted, do so gently - in a 160-170 degree oven for 15-20 minutes - to preserve the omega-3 fats.

In addition, incorporating more beans, winter squash, and extra virgin olive oil to your meal plan is easy. And features on our website will make it even easier. Visit the "How to Use" sections in the articles on each of the particular foods to learn about delicious quick serving tips. Using our Recipe Assistant can also help you to find recipes that feature these omega 3-rich foods.

Table 1

Foods concentrated in Omega-3 fatty acids

If you want more information on the omega-3 concentrations in the World's Healthiest Foods richest in this valuable nutrient, please see the Nutrient Rating Chart at the bottom of our omega-3 article, which you can find here.

Reference

He K, Lio K, Daviglus ML et al. Intakes of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and fish in relation to measurements of subclinical atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr 2008 Vol. 88(4):1111-1118.

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