By Jill Levy
There’s no doubt that omega-3 fatty acids play a pretty central role in health and wellness. The list of potential omega-3 benefits is quite long — including support for healthy brain function, cardiovascular function, a healthy immune response and much more.
When it comes to getting more omega-3s in your diet, we know that picking out the best omega-3 foods and supplements can be a little tricky.
Wondering which foods contain omega-3 fatty acids? And which type of supplement is best?
Below we’ll cover what you need to know about supplementation, plus what you should look for on your next trip to the grocery store. You’ll learn why it’s important to choose a high-quality omega-3 supplement sourced from real sustainable foods like wild-caught fish, such as Ancient Omegas Whole Body formula.
What Are Omega-3s? Types and Main Benefits
Omega-3 fatty acids are known as "essential fatty acids" — meaning your body doesn't naturally produce them, even though they are needed to support a variety of bodily functions.
There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids, including: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
- EPA and DHA are considered the most active forms of omega-3 fatty acids in the human body. These two are primarily found in seafood sources, such as fatty fish. The omega-3s in whole fish can be found as triglycerides, phospholipids and free fatty acid forms.
- ALA, on the other hand, must be converted into EPA or DHA and is primarily found in plant foods like walnuts, chia and flax seeds, and green, leafy vegetables.
- Another unique omega-3 you may have never heard of is eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA), which is found in roe oil and green-lipped mussels. This type has only recently been recognized for its health benefits, including the potential ability to help balance the ratio of omegas produced by the body.
Why is it important to consume a balance of omega-3s in proportion to omega-6s? Many people eating a “standard Western diet” tend to consume lots of omega-6s in their diet, but not a lot of omega-3s at all. Going out of your way to increase your omega-3 intake can therefore help to get your levels back in balance.
Omega-3 benefits can include:
- Support for cardiovascular and joint health
- Promotion of healthy cognitive function
- Promotion of healthy aging by supporting smooth, healthy skin
- Healthy eye function
- Exercise performance
- A healthy response to oxidative stress
- A healthy immune system response
Best Omega-3 Food Sources
You may be wondering: How can I get omega-3s naturally?
While supplements can be an easy and convenient way to up your intake of essential nutrients, food sources are always preferable. In addition to supplying plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy foods like wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds also contain many other essential nutrients, including important vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and proteins.
The best way to increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is to include just a few of the best sources of omega-3 in your daily diet, such as by having several servings of fatty fish such as salmon or sardines each week.
Fatty/oily fish, in particular, supply a concentrated amount of EPA and DHA and are often considered the top omega-3 foods. However, there are also some plant-based options for those who prefer to avoid eating seafood.
Here are a few of the best omega-3 foods to add into your diet:
- Wild-caught salmon
- Cod liver oil
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Egg yolks
Types of Omega-3 Supplements
1. Fish Oil
Derived from the tissues of fatty fish, fish oil supplies a steady stream of both EPA and DHA. It’s one of the most readily available and is often relatively affordable, making it a popular supplement choice.
2. Cod Liver Oil
Not only does cod liver oil contain a concentrated amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of EPA and DHA, but it’s also rich in vitamin A and vitamin D, both of which support many aspects of health.
3. Krill Oil
Krill oil is produced from Atlantic krill, a small, shrimp-like crustacean found primarily in the Southern Ocean. In addition to its omega-3 fatty acid content, krill oil also contains astaxanthin, a powerful carotenoid that can help promote a healthy response to oxidative stress,
4. Algal Oil
For those who don’t consume fish or seafood, algal oil can be a great alternative to help meet your daily omega-3 fatty acid needs. In fact, it stands out as one of the few plant-based sources of omega-3s that contains both EPA and DHA.
5. Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is one of the best omega-3 fish oil alternatives, especially for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet. It’s loaded with ALA and is available in convenient capsule or soft gel form, making it easier than ever to get your daily dose.
How to Choose An Omega-3 Supplement
When shopping for omega-3s, there are several factors to look for to ensure you get the best bang for your buck. Pay close attention to the form, type, dosage, freshness and purity of different supplements, which can help you to identify a product that is unrefined and full of healthy fats.
Here’s what to keep in mind while browsing the omega-3 supplement section:
Form: There are also several different omega-3 supplement forms, each of which varies in the way it is processed and produced. The processing method used is especially important, as it can alter the body’s ability to absorb and use each distinct type of omega-3 fatty acid.
Although all types can supply a multitude of omega-3 benefits, certain types seem to be better absorbed in the body than others. Selecting a supplement that contains triglycerides, free fatty acids or phospholipids may help to support absorption.
- Type: DHA and EPA are the active forms of omega-3 fatty acids in the body, and most supplements contain a good mix of the two to help deliver a wide array of benefits. ALA, on the other hand, is found in many plant-based supplements and some can be converted into DHA or EPA.
- Serving size: Many supplements boast a high amount of total milligrams of omega-3s but actually contain a much smaller amount of EPA and DHA. Although there are no official guidelines for the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids, many organizations recommend getting at least 250-500 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA daily.
- Freshness: Just like other foods, fish oil capsules can start to go rancid over time, diminishing many of the potential health-promoting properties. In addition to checking the expiration date, the easiest and most effective way to determine freshness is by simply breaking the capsule open and evaluating the taste and smell for rancidity.
- Purity: When buying fish oil, it’s best to look for products that are certified by third-party programs, such as the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) or EuroFins. These organizations have strict standards for purity and can ensure that you get a high-quality product free of contaminants, toxins, heavy metals and oxidation.
You’ll also want to look for unrefined, pure products that are made using minimal fillers or added ingredients. Low-quality omega-3 supplements may be less bioavailable and may be more likely to contain refined oils and possibly other contaminants.
Related: How Much Omega 3 Per Day?
Ancient Nutrition's Omega 3 Supplement
Ancient Omegas Whole Body formula provides 1,000 milligrams of omega-3s (including ALA, DHA, ETA and EPA) in each three-capsule serving. Our unique omega-3 supplement features a special combination of organic plant and wild ocean omega fatty acids (from organic chia oil and sustainably-caught, wild tuna and hoki from New Zealand), providing you with all four types of omega-3s.
Not only that, but our formula features antioxidant infusions and ancient botanicals like lemon peel oil and black pepper fruit oil to support absorption. Astaxanthin, an antioxidant, is also included to support healthy aging, a healthy response to oxidative stress, a healthy immune system, eye/skin/joint health and more.
If you’re specifically looking for help supporting your joints, try Ancient Omegas Joint Support formula — which features four types of omega-3s along with several other ingredients utilized in ancient systems of wellness like traditional Chinese herbalism and Ayurveda. We’ve added turmeric root and ginger root to our Joint Support formula for support of healthy levels of inflammation, muscle/connective tissue health and support for healthy immune system function.
Jill has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.