You may have heard that incorporating more fatty fish into your diet is the ideal way to meet your omega-3 needs. And while these types of fish (think salmon, sardines, and mackerel) are the most common sources of omega-3 fatty acids, they’re not the only option for upping your intake. In fact, some nuts, seeds, plant oils, and certain fortified foods are also high in these powerhouse fats.
Here’s what you need to know about omega-3s, including simple ways you can sneak them into your diet without having to eat anything fishy.
“Omega-3s are an essential fatty acid our body needs to function properly,” explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N. The term “essential” means that our body cannot make omega-3s on its own, so we need to get them through diet or supplements.
These omegas are involved in just about every vital cell and organ in the body, adds dietitian Elise Harlow, R.D.N. In fact, they support joint health, promote muscle recovery, optimize the immune system, promote heart health, keep our brain healthy, and even help the body in its efforts to fight inflammation (which means they’re good news for your skin and gut, too), notes dietitian Sarah Koszyk, R.D.N., author of 365 Snacks for Every Day of the Year.
There are three types of omega-3s: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). “ALA is mostly found in plant sources like flaxseed, walnuts, and leafy greens,” Harlow says. “DHA and EPA, meanwhile, are in marine sources like salmon, trout, and albacore tuna.” DHA and EPA are the most beneficial because your body can only convert ALA into small amounts of DHA and EPA.
How To increase Your Omega-3 Intake
According to Blakely, the average person would ideally consume between 250 and 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined per day. Just three ounces of cooked salmon provides around 2,000 milligrams, so it’s no wonder it’s considered the go-to source.
If you want to up your intake through plant-based sources (which contain that ALA), though, you’ll have to work a little harder. “Keeping up a diverse intake is key to ensuring you get adequate amounts of omega-3s weekly,” Koszyk says. According to the National Institutes of Health, the daily recommended intake of ALA is 1.6 grams for men, 1.1 grams for women, 1.4 grams for pregnant people, and 1.3 grams for breastfeeding people.
Here are a few simple but effective ways to amp up your omega-3 intake, other than eating fish.
1. Add flaxseed to yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies
Each tablespoon of flaxseed contains about 7.3 grams of ALA, making it an excellent alternative to marine foods and one of the richest sources of ALA out there. It also offers high amounts of lignans (which, according to Harlow, are a type of polyphenol found in plant foods with antioxidant and estrogenic activity), plus some protein and soluble fiber—and has been shown to have a notable impact on cardiovascular health.
To incorporate more flaxseed into your diet, Harlow recommends adding it to yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies, or adding ground flaxseed to baked goods. If you’re a fan of energy bites, flaxseed makes for a great addition to those, too. You can even use flaxseed oil in all sorts of dressings and sauces, Blakely adds.
2. Make chia drinks and puddings
Chia seeds offer 5.1 grams of ALA per one-ounce serving and, according to Harlow, are an excellent source of fiber that can support healthy blood sugar and pressure. Research even suggests they do your cognitive function and cholesterol a solid.
There are loads of ways to add these tiny seeds to your diet. One popular method? By making chia pudding. Don’t worry, it’s simple. Harlow recommends combining the following in a bowl and refrigerating:
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk
- ½ cup frozen blueberries
- ½ cup yogurt
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest
- 4 Tbsp chia seeds
- 1-2 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1/4 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 Tbsp salt
You can also sprinkle chia seeds into smoothies, yogurt bowls, overnight oats, and baked goods. Or, make chia fresca by combining chia seeds with your favorite citrus juice in a jar.
3. Snack on walnuts and edamame
If you’re looking for healthy snack alternatives, munch on walnuts and edamame, suggests Harlow. Not only are they great plant-based sources of omega-3s, but they are also loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
Read More: 5 Plant Foods That Are Complete Proteins
Research consistently agrees on the benefits of walnuts for supporting a healthy heart, a perk also attributed to edamame. Research also suggests that walnuts may help promote brain health and healthy cognitive function as we age.
In addition to snacking on these omega-packed options when hunger strikes, Koszyk also suggests sprinkling either walnuts or edamame into your salads or incorporating creamy walnuts into pesto sauce recipes.
4. Swap regular eggs for omega-3-fortified eggs
Omega-3-enriched eggs are produced by chickens fed a diet rich in flaxseed. They typically contain 150 to 250 milligrams of omega-3s per egg, depending on the brand, says Harlow.
As a reliable source of omega-3s, research shows that eating omega-3-enriched eggs better supports healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar than sticking to the regular ones.
So, whenever you would typically turn to regular eggs—whether you’re scrambling them up or adding them to baked goods batters—just switch them out for omega-3-fortified eggs.
5. Choose grass-fed beef over conventional
Research shows that grass-fed beef contains significantly more (like up to five times) the omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants found in regular, grain-fed beef. While this typically means that grass-fed beef also tastes slightly different than the conventional, grain-fed stuff, the potential nutritional benefits make the switch well worth it, Harlow says.
Whether you’re grilling steak, simmering a hearty stew, or making hamburgers, opting for grass-fed beef whenever possible will do your health a major favor.
6. Consider a supplement
Though all of these tactics can help you significantly increase your omega-3 intake, it’s important to note that they alone can’t necessarily guarantee you’ll meet your overall needs, Blakely cautions.
Do these things and eat fish sources of omega-3s on a regular basis, and you’re probably good to go. However, if you don’t eat seafood, you might have a harder time hitting the omega mark because of how inefficiently the body converts ALA into EPA and DHA, Harlow says.
Of course, talking to a dietitian is the best way to get a solid sense of whether you’re meeting your needs, but you might want to consider an omega-3 supplement if you don’t eat much (or any) fish, say both Blakely and Harlow. Fish oil-based supplements are the most common option out there, but plant-based eaters can instead opt for an algae-based supplement (which offers DHA), Harlow notes. For fish oil, try Vthrive The Vitamin Shoppe brand Premium Wild Alaskan Fish Oil, which offers 825 milligrams of EPA and 275 milligrams of DHA; for algae, check out Garden of Life Minami Supercritical Algae Omega-3, which provides 500 milligrams of DHA per serving.