You may have heard that eating foods rich in omega-3 fats could help to keep you healthy. This Food Fact Sheet looks at which foods contain omega-3 fats, how much we need and the benefits for our health.
Omega-3s are a family of fats that are important for your health.
Nuts and seeds, and their oils, contain ALA - walnuts, flaxseeds and rapeseed oil are particularly good sources. Fish and especially oily fish are good sources of EPA and DHA.
White fish (cod, haddock, plaice, pollack, coley, dover sole, dab, flounder, red mullet and gurnard) and shellfish contain some LCN-3, but at much lower levels than oily fish.
You should try and include both types of fish in your usual diet. Some foods have DHA added (fortified). Human milk contains DHA and infant formulas must have this fat added. The best way of ensuring we are getting enough omega-3 is to eat foods rich in these fats.
These are examples of good fish/seafood sources of omega-3:
People from countries such as Japan and Greenland who eat a diet rich in omega-3s, have been shown to have a lower risk of heart disease than other countries including the UK Because of this and other health benefits, the NHS recommends you eat more foods containing omega-3.
As well as omega-3, fish are good sources of other nutrients and:
The richest dietary sources of long-chain omega-3 fats are marine fish oils. The omega-3 in fish comes from micro-algae, small plants found in water.
Stocks of some fish species like wild salmon and trout are declining. So, to ensure the sustainability of our fish stocks, you can try to choose fish from sustainable sources. Look for products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. The Good Fish Guide from the Marine Conservation Society provides details of sustainable fish sources.
You should try to eat two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily, to get the most benefit.
One portion size
18 months to three years
¼ - ¾ small fillet or one to three tablespoons
four to six years
½ – one small fillet or two to four tablespoons
seven to eleven years
one – 1 ½ small fillets or four to six tablespoons
12 years to adult
140g (5 oz) fresh fish or one small can oily fish
Some types of fish (shark, swordfish and marlin) may be high in mercury. This chemical may be harmful to the developing nervous system in babies. Avoid these fish if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or under 16 years old. All other adults, including those who are breastfeeding, should eat no more than one portion of these fish per week.
If you are past childbearing age or not intending to have children, you can eat up to four portions of all other fish per week. You can safely have up to two portions of oily fish per week if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, planning a pregnancy or may become pregnant in future.
If you do not eat fish or you eat a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet, you can get omega-3 from:
If your diet is plant-based or you are vegetarian, foods that are acceptable to you and have had omega-3 added can also be useful sources. These include certain brands of eggs, milk, yoghurt, bread, and spreads. Check the labels to make sure.
Omega-3 supplements are not recommended in the UK general population. This is because evidence of benefits is inconclusive. If you are considering a supplement, you should:
Some supplements contain only algae so are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
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