Omega-3 Fatty Acids
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. Essential means they cannot be made by our bodies as we cannot make the double bond which gives them their name of Omega-3, and so we must get them from the food we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat.
The Omega-3 fatty acids include:
- ALA = alpha-linolenic acid
- EPA = eicosapentaenoic acic
- DHA = docosahexaenoic acid
- DPA = docosapentaenoic acid
Alpha-linolenic acid is often referred to as the parent or plant-sourced Omega-3 fatty acid, while EPA and DHA are considered the major long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid cannot be formed in the body and so must be consumed in the diet. Once consumed ALA may be converted in our bodies into EPA and DHA in limited amounts provided there is sufficient ALA in the diet. However, the conversion of ALA to the other Omega-3 fatty acids will not meet our requirements for these fatty acids and so it is important that in addition to ALA that EPA and DHA are also consumed in the diet.
Which foods are sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Generally the Omega-3 fatty acid ALA, comes from plant based foods, while EPA and DHA come from marine and animal foods. Sources of ALA include canola oil (including margarines derived from canola oil), legumes, flaxseeds (linseed) and flaxseed oil, certain nuts such as walnuts, soybeans and dark green leafy vegetables1. Good sources of EPA and DHA include oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring and other seafood2. Fish get their Omega-3 fatty acids from the algae they eat and so there may be a difference in the Omega-3 concentrations of farmed and wild caught fish. Some types of oily fish should be limited during pregnancy and for small children3. For those who don’t eat fish or seafood, lean meat can also be a source of EPA and DHA. Also many foods are now being ‘fortified’ or enriched with the long-chain Omega-3 fats including eggs, milk, bread, yogurt and orange juice2. Look out for this on food product labels.
How much do you need?
The table below shows the daily Adequate Intake levels of Omega-3 for each age group for New Zealand men and women1.
|Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)||Total long-chain omega-3
|Boys and girls
|Adults 19+ yr
14 – 18yr
The NZ Heart Foundations suggestsDietary Targets for EPA and DHA of 500mg per day 5. This target is a daily average intake of EPA and DHA from food and beverages that may help to reduce the risk of chronic disease. This target can be met by following the National Heart Foundation recommendations of consuming at least (preferably oily fish) twice per week 1,5. It is important for those who do not like fish or those who are vegetarian and don’t include fish or lean meat in their diet, to include other sources of these essential fatty acids such as eggs or foods enriched with EPA and DHA. In addition to the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids it is also recommended to include sources of ALA in our diet every day. This is particularly important for vegetarians who do not eat fish. This could be achieved through a combination of flaxseeds/linseeds, walnuts, canola oils and products containing these ingredients.
If you are a vegan you can buy Omega-3 fatty acid supplements derived from algae.
What do Omega-3 Fatty Acids do?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids and are therefore necessary for the normal growth and development of our bodies. They also help us absorb fat soluble vitamins. The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA contribute to cell membrane functions and there is a growing body of science showing EPA and DHA play a positive role in supporting heart health1,4. However, it should be noted that a higher intake of 500mg/day of EPA and DHA is recommended to support this health effect4.
Tips for boosting Omega-3 Fats in your diet
- Make a tuna, light mayonnaise and salad sandwich for lunch
- Add some tinned fish or another kind of seafood to a salad e.g. niçoise salad with tuna, green beans, potato, tomato, olives and low-fat canola mayonnaise, tangy seafood salad
- Add fish to pasta dishes e.g. smoked salmon and capers or tuna, olive and tomato fettucine
- Make a tuna or salmon mornay
- Make a fish pie
- Include eggs in your diet e.g. poached eggs on toast for breakfast
- Try a smoked salmon and asparagus omelette or quiche
- Fish patties are always a hit
- Look out for Omega-3 fortified products commonly found in milks, yoghurt, breakfast cereals, bread, snack bars and fruit juice
- Enjoy a handful of walnuts as a snack
- Add some nuts and sprinkle some linseeds into a stir-fry e.g. chicken, vegetables and cashews
- Add some nuts and sprinkle some linseeds into a salad e.g. garden salad with walnuts, celery, apple and low-fat canola mayonnaise
- Add nuts to baking e.g. banana and walnut cake, fruit and nut cake, seed and nut bars
- When you need to use oil in cooking, use canola oil
- Use canola margarine in place of other vegetable oil based margarines
- Use multigrain or soy and linseed bread
- Offer a dark green leafy vegetable dish as a side e.g. sautéed spinach or steamed Asian greens
- Reduce the saturated ‘bad’ fat in the menu by trimming excess fat from meat. Remove skin from chicken and choose low fat or reduced fat dairy products
This fact sheet contains general information. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific advice for your personal situation.
If you would like current information about our products please go to www.nestle.co.nz/brands or call our Consumer Services department during business hours on 0800 830 840.
Check out the following article for further reading:
1. Department of Health and Ageing. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Department of Health and Ageing.2006.
2. Omega-3 Centre. . Omega 3 Sources. 2011
Available at: http://omega-3centre.com/omega-3s/getting-enough-omega-3s/sources/
3. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. Mercury in Fish. 2011. Available at: http://www.foodstandards.govt.nz/consumer/chemicals/mercury/pages/default.aspx
4.Heart Foundation. Heart Foundation Position Statement: Fish, fish oils, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiovascular health. 2008. Available at: http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Fish-FishOils-position-statement.pdf
5. Heart foundation. Fish and Seafood. 2014. Available from http://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/know-the-facts/food-and-drink/fish