Few nutrients have been studied as thoroughly as omega-3 fatty acids. For instance, did you know that studies indicate that people who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to be depressed? And what's more, when people with depression or anxiety start boosting their omega-3 intake, their symptoms improve.
Omega-3s have long been tied to numerous benefits for heart health—from lowering blood pressure and triglycerides to boosting the “good” HDL cholesterol. They've also been found to improve eye health and reduce risk of macular degeneration, one of the world's leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness.
Furthermore, a diet rich in omega-3s may help prevent cancer, one of the leading causes of death in the Western world. Several studies have found that people who consume the most omega-3s have up to a 55% lower risk of colon cancer. Additionally, omega-3 consumption is linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men while warding off chronic, or long-term, inflammation.
Three different fatty acids are grouped together to form the triad of omega-3 fatty acids. And they're not all created equal when it comes to their benefits. Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish. ALA is found in plant sources like canola oil, soy and various nuts. For optimal health, it's ideal to get a mix of all three.
“ALA is a precursor to the other types of omega-3,” explains registered dietitian Anna Taylor. “A precursor means your body has to convert ALA to EPA and DHA.” This conversion process varies from person to person, and it's not always efficient. So to really boost your body's omega-3 levels, she recommends getting at least some EPA and DHA from your diet.
If you want to easily add more omega-3s to your diet, eat more seafood. According to the Cleveland Clinic, most adults should eat at least two servings of fish each week. Fish like salmon, mackerel, lake trout and anchovies are extremely high in the essential fats. Even oysters and caviar are high in omegas.
Meanwhile, flaxseeds, walnuts, edamame and chia seeds are more great options—especially for vegetarians and vegans. So is seaweed, which unlike other plant-based sources that only contain ALA, boasts both DHA and EPA.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there's not enough data to work out a recommended daily allowance of omega-3 for healthy adults. But Taylor says simply adding two servings a week (such as fatty fish for a meal and some walnuts for a snack) is an easy way to ensure robust omega-3 intake.