Getting the essential omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, like most things related to food and health, isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.
The plural “acids” in the name is a big clue as to why. There are three main substances that make up this category of chemicals necessary for brain and heart health:
Found in cold-water fish, grass-fed meats, dairy and enriched eggs, this acid supports brain functions including cognition, memory and mood. It’s also beneficial to your heart and eyes and a major building block for your skin.
Found almost exclusively in cold-water fish, EPA reduces inflammation throughout the body and can also help to elevate mood for those with depression.
Primarily found in chia seeds, flaxseeds and nuts, ALA must be converted into EPA or DHA for most uses in the body, but humans can only produce a limited amount this way. The rest of the ALA is used as energy or fat, and its presence may reduce heart disease risk.
Most health experts recommend people eat at least two servings of fish per week for their omega-3 content and other health benefits, or alternatively take fish oil supplements, though consuming them that way may not be as effective at improving health as through food. Federal health experts have not established a recommended daily intake for omega 3 fatty acids except for ALA at about 1.6 grams per day for most adults.
Vegans, vegetarians and those who avoid fish or fish oil supplements due to mercury contamination, allergies or other reasons often struggle to find adequate sources of omega-3 fatty acids. But algal (algae) oil, produced from the microalgae that fish get their omega-3s from, has become a popular alternative containing both DHA and EPA.
Found in capsule form, it can be taken as a supplement and has a neutral taste compared to fish oil. It’s also available as a culinary oil with a high smoke point that’s low in saturated fat and high in healthy monounsaturated fats.