Omega-3 refers to a set of three naturally occurring fatty acids (ALA, EPA and DHA), each of which is vital to human health in varying degrees. With a whole host of science-backed health benefits from fighting depression and anxiety, improving eye health, and promoting brain health, to helping to combat heart disease - it's even been suggested to help with mental disorders, the autoimmune system, and issues such as asthma and bone and joint health - it's no wonder that many people the world over have made it a vital part of their dietary health regime, most commonly taken as a supplement, such as a fish oil capsule. Doctors recommend a dose of 280–500 milligrams per day - but some foods will give you way more than that in just one serving. Here's how to get your fix through your diet.
Fatty fish is the best way to maximise your omega-3 hit – grill a whole smoked fillet of mackerel for breakfast, as is the tradition in many northern European countries, and you will ingest more than 4g of the good stuff in one sitting. Smaller oily fish, often served in cans, will also do the trick – sardines and anchovies, in particular, are great sources of omega-3.
The mighty salmon is one nutrient-rich fish, absolutely packed with proteins, minerals and B-vitamins, as well as enough omega-3 to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. DHA is the active element here, which plays a part in our brain growth as infants – that’s why pregnant women are advised to get plenty of it. Later in life, this fatty acid can also help mitigate anxiety and depression, as well as keeping skin cells smooth and supple and preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Flaxseeds are actually the richest whole-food source of the fatty acid ALA, and are often ground or milled for their oil. This, in turn, is often used as an omega-3 supplement. Consuming these small brown and yellow seeds, or the flaxseed oil, will also give you a boost of fibre, vitamin E and minerals such as magnesium.
Just two tablespoons of chia seeds will administer all eight vital amino acids into your system – and more omega-3 than salmon, gram for gram. However, the fatty acid in play in these little babies is principally ALA, which is not quite as beneficial as other acids.
Of all the nuts, wrinkly walnuts are pretty close to being a superfood, packed with fibre, copper, vitamin E and high-quality plant compounds. Plus, of course, those heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. It is better to eat them with the skin on, which is where the best phenol antioxidants are apparently stored.
While avocado may well be one of the hippest foods on the planet, its omega-3 value has been slightly overstated by enthusiasts. Tasty and wholesome as avo may be, the average serving spread on your toast will contain far less ALA than salmon, and no EPA or DHA at all.