Omega 3's: How Much to Lower Cholesterol?

by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Professional

Increasing the amount of omega-3 fats in our diet and decreasing the amount of omega-6 is beneficial in reducing your risk for heart disease. Most American's consume a high omega-6 diet, with omega 3 being a common deficiency. Omega 3 deficiencies and the imbalance between omega 3 and omega 6 intakes have been linked with serious conditions, including heart attacks.
Successfully maintaining a ratio of 4:1 to 1:1 omega 6 to omega 3 will help lower cholesterol levels and control high blood pressure.

How much omega 3 do you need to add?

This is under debate and more research is being done.
Right now the range experts recommend is from 500-2000 mg/day.
Here are the current American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations.

The AHA recommends that individuals without heart disease eat a variety of fish twice a week, use heart healthy oils (flaxseed, canola, soybean oils), and consume flaxseed and walnuts.

For individuals with heart disease, the AHA recommends 1 g of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) + DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) daily, preferably from fatty fish.

The AHA recommends 2 to 4 g of EPA + DHA daily, under physician's care only, for individuals that need to lower triglycerides. High doses, > 3 grams/day, can result in excessive bleeding. (Do not self medicate Talk to your MD before supplementing greater than 2 grams.)

Omega 3 Content of Different Foods

  • Wild Salmon, 4 oz. 1700 mg (DHA 700 mg, EPA 400 mg)

  • Tuna canned in water, 4 oz. 300 mg (DHA 200 mg, EPA 50 mg)

  • Cod, 4 oz. 600 mg (DHA 160 mg, EPA 50 mg)

  • Flaxseed, 1 Tbsp. 1000 mg (ALA - alpha-linolenic acid - 1000 mg)

  • Soybeans, dried, cooked
    ½ cup 500 mg (DHA/EPA 250 mg, ALA 250 mg)

  • Walnuts, 1 oz. 2570 mg (ALA 2570 mg)

  • Pecans, 1 oz. 280 mg (ALA 280 mg)

  • Wheat germ,
    ¼ cup 210 mg (ALA 210 mg)

  • Canola oil, 1 Tbsp 1300 mg (ALA 1300 mg)

  • Olive oil, 1 Tbsp 100 mg (ALA 100 mg)

There's a reason I included details on amounts of DHA, EPA, and ALA for each omega 3 source.
Right now, DHA and EPA have a greater link with lower cholesterol levels, lower triglycerides, and higher HDL levels than ALA.
The body is able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is low; therefore, it is best to include high DHA and EPA sources in your eating plan.

My recommendation:

As a preventive measure and to promote lower cholesterol and blood pressure control, I recommend eating fish twice a week, select a supplement that will provide you at least 1000 mg of omega 3 fatty acids daily (choose a good source of DHA and EPA), and use ground flaxseed when appropriate in your meal preparation.

Read more from Lisa:

Dietary Fiber: 4 Tips to Lower Cholesterol with Fiber

Triglycerides: Why They Matter and How to Lower Them

Get a Grip on Fatty Acids

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Lisa Nelson, RD, LN
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Nelson, RD, LN

Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so you can live life and enjoy your family for years to come. Lisa's passion for health comes from her own family history of heart disease, so she doesn't dispense trendy treatments; Lisa practices what she teaches in her own daily life. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques.