Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Beneficial for Your Heart
Omega-3 fatty acids are “healthy” fats, which are thought to protect the body against heart disease. They help the heart beat more regularly, reducing blood “stickiness,” therefore making it less likely to clot, and protecting the arteries from damage. They also help to maintain healthy joints, and are associated with beneficial improvements in our mood.
Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are found in certain fatty fish, but they can also be derived in the body from ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from certain seeds and plant-based oils.
The body is however, inefficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA, and therefore, if possible, it is best to consume fatty fish as your source of omega-3s, rather than plant-based sources alone.
A 2010 study, looked at the influence of ALA from flaxseed oil and found that it had a positive impact on cardiovasascular disease (CVD).
Current recommendations for consumption
Currently the advice for most people is to eat at least two servings of fatty fish per week. You should aim for at least one serving of fatty fish, and one serving of white fish per week. A serving is roughly 100g (4 oz) of fresh, frozen or smoked fish, or one small tin of canned fish.
Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
The highest sources have been listed first, for example, fresh salmon is higher in omega-3 fatty acids than tinned salmon:
- Mackerel (fresh or frozen) - EPA/DHA 1.25g/100g
- Kippers (fresh or frozen)
- Pilchards (canned in tomato sauce)
- Tuna (fresh or frozen)
- Trout (fresh or frozen)
- Mackerel (canned in tomato sauce or brine)
- Salmon (fresh or frozen) - EPA/DHA 1.80g/100g
- Sardines (canned in tomato sauce) - EPA/DHA 0.98g/100g
- Herring (fresh or frozen)
- Salmon (canned in brine)
- Tuna (canned in oil)
- Crab (canned in brine)
- Cod (fresh or frozen) - EPA/DHA 0.28g/100g
- Haddock (fresh or frozen)
- Tuna (canned in brine or water)
To preserve the omega-3 content, steaming is the best cooking method, however grilled, baked or canned oily fish are also valuable sources of these beneficial fatty acids.
A few recipe ideas
- Canned salmon in low fat salad cream, served with multi-seed bread and salad.
- Mackerel with chopped cucumber and limejuice dressing, served with spiced couscous.
- Canned sardines with mixed bean salad and tossed leaves.
- Stir-fried salmon with noodles and mixed vegetables.
Melanie is a dietitian and writer. She wrote for HeatlhCentral as a health professional for Food & Nutrition and Heart Health.