8 Foods Packed With Fatty Acids

  • Fish contain high amounts of omega-3s — especially salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and trout.
  • Oils like cod liver, canola, flaxseed, and soybean are also rich sources of omega-3 fats.
  • Vegetarians can opt for omega-3-rich options like soybeans, chia seeds, and walnuts.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Omega-3 fats are packed with benefits for your health. They can:

  • Promote heart health: Omega-3s can reduce the risk of blood clots and lower the number of fats in the blood called triglycerides.
  • Benefit your cells: “Omega-3s are critical for healthy cells, making up part of the membranes that surround every cell in your body,” says Karen Ansel, MS, a registered dietician in private practice.
  • Promote healthy pregnancy: Omega-3s fats are important for the growth and development of fetuses in the womb.

Experts recommend that per day:

  • Adult men should get around 1.6 grams of omega-3 fats
  • Adult women should get 1.1 grams of omega-3 fats

To get enough omega-3s, you’ll need to eat key foods like fatty fish and flaxseed oil.

Here are nine foods that contain omega-3 fats and how each can affect your health.

1. Salmon

A cut of Wildtype's cell-grown salmon.

 

You can bake salmon or eat it raw on sushi.

Courtesy of Wildtype

Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fats you can add to your diet. This is because “salmon feed on algae and plankton, which are rich sources of omega-3s,” says Charlotte Martin, MS, a registered dietician with a private practice.

A three-ounce serving of wild salmon contains about 1.8 grams of omega-3 fats.

2. Small fatty fish

a fork spearing a grilled sardine off a dish of small fish, citrus, and grains

 

Eating sardines and other small fish is a good way to get a lot of omega-3s from a small serving.

Elena Pejchinova/Getty Images

“Fish is hands down the best way to work more omega-3s into your diet,” Ansel says. In particular, small fish with high fat and oil content tend to be rich in omega-3s.

Some of the best fish sources of omega-3s include:

  • Mackerel: 2.5 grams per three-ounce serving
  • Herring: between 1.3 and 2 grams per serving
  • Anchovies: 1.4 grams per serving
  • Sardines: 1.2 grams per serving
  • Lake trout: 2 grams per serving

The American Heart Association recommends eating two three-ounce servings of fatty fish per week, as it can be protective against heart disease. This includes canned fish, which generally provide as much omega-3 as fresh fish.

3. Cod liver oil

Olive oil on feta.

 

Cod oil is packed with vitamin A.

Getty

Cod liver oil is a type of fish oil supplement that offers a great source of omega-3 fats. One teaspoon of cod liver oil contains about 0.9 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.

Along with omega-3 fats, cod liver oil is also rich in fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin D, says Julie Stefanski, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

But while cod liver oil can be good for your health, it’s important not to take too much — adults can take about one tablespoon per day.

This is because when you’re taking cod liver oil, “you’re exposing your body to an amount of preformed vitamin A that you wouldn’t encounter naturally,” Stefanski says. Your body absorbs preformed vitamin A more easily than other forms of vitamin A, so it’s easier to accidentally take a toxic amount.

Over time, taking too much vitamin A can lead to bone thinning, skin irritation, and liver damage.

4. Oysters

A woman wearing a blue shirt picking up an oyster off of a platter

 

Oysters are a source of lean protein.

Getty Images

“Oysters are slightly lower in omega-3 fatty acids than salmon, anchovies, and sardines, but are still a very rich source,” Stefanski says.

A three-ounce serving of oysters contains about 0.7 grams of omega-3 fats.

Oysters also provide several essential nutrients like


zinc

, vitamin B12, and copper, along with plenty of lean protein.

5. Soybeans

Tofu blocks with soy beans and edamame as food styling props

 

Soybeans are a great source of omega-3s for vegetarians.

Diane Labombarbe/Getty Images

 Soybeans provide a type of omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that is found naturally in plants. One 100-gram serving of soybeans contains about 1.4 grams of ALA fatty acids.

ALA fats are harder for your body to absorb than the other omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found in fish. For this reason, fish are generally a more potent source of omega-3 fats than plants.

But if you’re vegetarian or don’t eat fish, soybeans are a good option to provide omega-3s, along with other nutrients like protein. “Soy products are one of the best plant protein sources for those following a plant-based diet,” Martin says.

6. Chia seeds

chia seeds

 

Chia seeds are rich in minerals.

Scott Lorenzo/Sacramento Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Chia seeds are very high in ALA omega-3 fatty acids and are one of the best plant-based sources. A one-ounce serving of chia seeds contains about five grams of omega-3 fats.

Chia seeds are also incredibly rich in fiber, offering nearly ten grams in a one-ounce serving. They also provide key minerals including calcium, iron,


magnesium

, and zinc.

7. Plant oils

Olive oil bottles arranged to the left, lit up by the sun

 

Canola oil has 1.2 grams of omega-3s per tablespoon.

MEDITERRANEAN/Getty Images

“Plant oils do provide small amounts of omega 3s, but not nearly the amount that you’d get from fatty fish,” Ansel says.

But some oils are a better source than others — “for example, flaxseed oil contains six times the amount of omega-3s of canola oil and eight times the amount in soybean oil,” Ansel says.

On average, the most common plant oils contain:

  • Flaxseed oil: 7.3 grams of ALA per tablespoon
  • Canola oil: 1.2 grams per tablespoon
  • Soybean oil: 0.9 grams per tablespoon

8. Walnuts

Cheese and walnuts

 

Walnuts pack fiber along with omega-3s.

Westend61/Getty Images

Walnuts are another good source of ALA omega-3 fats — a one-ounce serving of walnuts contains about 2.6 grams.

Walnuts are also rich in many other vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. The same one-ounce serving contains about two grams of fiber, along with plenty of zinc, copper, and manganese.

Insider’s takeaway

Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of your diet, offering key heart health benefits. The best sources of omega-3s are seafood, including oysters and small, fatty fish. But if you’re vegetarian, plant oils, walnuts, and chia seeds are good options to get your daily dose of omega-3 fats.

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