What are Omega-3’s & Why Do You Need Them?
Feb 16 2016

What are Omega-3’s & Why Do You Need Them?

By: VIDA Registered Dietitian Courtney Puidk

Fish-oil-in-a-fish-shapeWhat are omega-3’s?

Omega-3 fats are a set of poly-unsaturated fats and are considered “essential” nutrients, meaning that our bodies cannot make them so we must get them through the foods we eat. Omega-3’s are needed during pregnancy and lactation to support brain and eye development, but continue to serve many functions after infancy for growth and health maintenance.

What do they do for adults?

Omega-3’s help to thin blood and prevent the clogging of arteries, thus helping to decrease the risk for heart attack and stroke. They may also prevent arteries form hardening, lower blood levels of fats known as triglycerides, and aid in blood pressure reduction. Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3’s can also relieve stress related to arthritis and other inflammatory conditions as well as help strengthen the immune system.

What foods contain them?

Source Amount omega-3
Cold water fish (3oz per serving):  
     Wild caught salmon 1.8g
     Mackerel 1.1g
     Trout 0.8g
Plant based foods:  
     Ground flaxseed 0.3g per 2tbsp
     Walnuts 0.25g per 1oz


Other sources include eggs from chickens who have been fed flaxseed (will say so on carton; 1.3-2.5g per egg); meat, milk, and butter from grass-fed cows; and fish oils (amount varies and should be detailed on nutrition label).

How much do I need?

  Adequate daily intake
Women age 14 and older 1.1g
     During pregnancy and lactation 1.4g
Men age 14 and older 1.6g


What about omega-6’s?

Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential; however, they are abundant in our food system and most Americans are getting too much. The ideal ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s is 4:1, but the average intake is 20:1! This is because omega-6’s are found in corn and soy beans, which are commodity crops grown for feeding to factory farm animals. Oils made from corn, soy, safflower and sunflower (aka, “vegetable oil”) are also high in omega-6’s. An imbalance in the ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s may counteract the positive effects of these essential fats and even contribute to heart disease! The best way to ensure your consumption is balanced is to aim for two servings of fish per week, use oils low in omega-6’s, and to consume milk, butter and meat from animals that have been grass fed.

Curious for more information? Come talk to your dietitian!