Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids for many reasons including brain function, growth and development. Consuming them appears to benefit many conditions including high cholesterol, heart disease and inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Unlike some substances, your body cannot manufacture them on its own, meaning you can only get these beneficial fats through diet and supplementation. While only a limited number of foods contain them naturally, be on the lookout for foods fortified with these fatty acids that do not normally contain them.
Fatty fish represent the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids. The best sources include salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines and herring. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends eating these types of fish at least twice a week to promote heart health. A 3-ounce serving of herring offers 1.8 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, while equivalent servings of chinook salmon and sardines contain 1.5 and 1.2 grams, respectively.
Flaxseeds represent a rich source of non-animal omega-3 fatty acids. You can buy flaxseeds already ground or buy them whole and grind them on your own. They make a great addition to a variety of foods including salads, cereals and soups. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons on to get those beneficial fatty acids. Sears notes that the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid, or ALA, comprises up to 60 percent of flax oil. A tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, while an equivalent serving of oil contains 7.3 grams. You can also find many foods like breads and nutrition bars that add flaxseed as an ingredient.
Hempseeds, which are actually a nut, represent a rich source of ALA. They also contain omega-6 fatty acids and represent an ideal balance between the two. Like flaxseed, you can consume the food whole, use the oil or buy foods that contain hempseed. You will also find omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts -- each ounce of English walnuts contains 2.6 grams.
Types of Omega-3s
The food sources you choose determine which type of omega-3s you'll consume. Fatty fish contain DHA and EPA -- two types of omega-3 fatty acids that are easily utilized by your body. Plant sources, including nuts and flaxseeds, contains ALA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that your body must convert to DHA and EPA. Because this conversion is not very efficient -- as little as 15 percent of the ALA you consume gets converted -- fatty fish serve as better sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The Institute of Medicine has not yet set a recommended daily intake for DHA and EPA, but recommends consuming at least 1.6 grams of ALA daily for men and 1.1 grams for women.