Omega-3s are an important part of your family's healthy diet.

What Are Omega-3s and Why Are They So Important?

Nutritionists advise all of us to pay attention to our intake of omega-3 fatty acids, because the American diet is unusually low in these healthy fats. But many people are confused by all the hype. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of omega-3s and why it’s important to eat more of them.

What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3s are essential fats, meaning that everyone needs them for good health. While many of us are trying to eat less fat to lose weight, omega-3s are considered “good fats” rather than “bad fats”, and need to be included even in a low-calorie diet. Omega-3s are found only found in foods and supplements; they cannot be made by the human body.

There are three types of omega-3s:

  1. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
  2. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
  3. ALA (alpha linolenic acid)

ALA, which is found only in plants, is converted by the body into DHA and EPA.

What Are the Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fats?

Omega-3 fats can:

  • Lower blood pressure by helping blood vessels relax, allowing blood to flow more easily.
  • Lower triglycerides (fats in the blood), reduce inflammation, and improve cardiovascular health.
  • Help prevent Alzheimer’s, dementia, and age-related memory loss.
  • Ease depression.
  • Improve varicose veins.
  • Reduce the inflammatory effects of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Potentially provide benefits to children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

How Can I Eat More Omega-3s?

Since the body does not naturally produce omega-3 fatty acids, we have to get them through the foods we eat or by taking supplements. The highest amounts of DHA and EPA are found in oily cold-water fish such as herring, sardines, mackerel, wild salmon, halibut, and tuna.

Nuts and seeds are rich in ALAs, which the body converts to omega-3. Snacking on walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin and sunflower seeds will boost your omega-3 levels.

Another way to get more omega-3s is to add ground flax seed meal to cereal, oatmeal, pancakes, and sprinkle it on salads.

How Much Omega-3 Do I Need?

Nutritionists recommend eating two to three servings of fish per week. If you cannot eat this much fish, take a fish oil supplement (1 gram per day).

Before adding omega-3 to your diet or taking a supplement, talk with your doctor about the amount that is  best for you and how to get it.


Heather D'Eliso Gordon is a Nutrition Health Coach and Sports Dietitian in the Health Education department of Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. A certified specialist in sports dietetics, Heather works with both recreational and competitive athletes to create optimal nutrition plans that support their fitness goals. She also provides nutrition coaching to Kaiser Permanente patients pursuing weight loss goals or coping with diabetes, high cholesterol, celiac disease, and other conditions.