Are you getting enough omega-3 in your diet?

If you want to enjoy good health, it’s important that you get enough omega-3 in your diet. Find out why many of us are getting less than we think – and how to ensure you get enough.

According to research conducted by omega-3 supplements brand, Equazen, oven-baked fish fingers and ‘chip shop’ style fish fillets don’t provide Brits with the recommended daily amount (RDA) of omega-3 – even those that advertise to be omega-3 products on packaging.

Shrimp, canned tuna and cooked cod fillets also don’t provide the daily dose needed of omega-3 DHA (Docosahexaenoic n-3 acid) in a 100g serving.

Oily fish such as sardines, herring and anchovies do, on average, contain enough omega-3 to meet the daily RDA of 250mg of omega-3 DHA a day. However, when looking at the weekly intake of fish consumption in the UK, experts warn that we are not getting the amount of fatty fish acids we need.

Indeed, according to research, an average of just 146g of fish was purchased per person per week for household consumption. And even a 100g portion of Mackerel per week, isn’t enough to meet government guidance:

What are omega-3s, and why are they so important?

So exactly what are omega-3s, and why are they so important for our health? Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids. As our bodies don’t produce these, they can only be obtained through diet and are found mostly in oily fish and also in some plant-based sources such as nuts.

Three key fatty acids make up the final omega-3 value a fish product has. These acids are:

  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)

DHA and EPA are classed as long-chain fatty acids and are found in fish. If you’re a vegetarians or just don’t eat fish, you can obtain omega-3 from plant-based sources which are high in ALA. ALA must be converted by the body into DHA and EPA to be biologically active and therefore beneficial to health. The conversion process however is inefficient so on average, only 1% to 10% of ALA is converted into EPA and 0.5% to 5% into DHA.

So seeing high quantities of ALA in plant-based foods doesn’t mean that they are high in its equivalent omega-3 amount, due to the conversion process. If you are vegetarian though, these plant foods are still a source of omega-3.

What happens if you don’t get enough omega-3?

If your body doesn’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids, you can develop deficiencies, which in turn can lead to significant health problems. Some diets and eating plans, such as diets high in red meat and poultry, or diets that significantly restrict fat, can make you more prone to omega-3 deficiency.

Here are some signs that you may have low omega-3 levels:

  • Dry skin, brittle hair, dandruff, or thin nails that peel and crack.
  • Tiredness and trouble sleeping.
  • Problems concentrating, poor memory, irritability and anxiety.
  • Joint pain and leg cramps.
  • Hives, asthma or eczema.
  • Excessive ear wax.
  • Cardiovascular worries.
  • Prolonged, heavy periods with clotting.

How omega-3 can help migraine sufferers

If you’re one of over 6 million people in the UK estimated to suffer from migraines, you may want to consider diet intervention to lessen the symptoms, if you haven’t done so already.

study of the relationship between diet and migraine now provides good evidence that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduces headache frequency compared with a diet with a normal intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These results support recommending a high omega-3 diet to patients in clinical practice. 

What are the recommended daily amounts (RDA) of omega-3?

The NHS recommends eating at least two 140g portions of fish each week, with one portion being an oily fish. There is also a recommended daily amount of DHA to obtain for optimum health, particularly brain health as we need to maintain the levels of fat in the brain. The RDA of omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, is 250mg (0.25g) a day.

Roz Kadir, an ex-England Rugby nutritionist said:

“Getting the RDA of omega through diet alone is difficult, even as a big fish eater. Due to other properties and fats in fish, such as mercury in Tuna, eating fish and oily fish everyday isn’t recommended and doesn’t form a balanced diet. Therefore, getting 250g of DHA usually requires you to take daily fish oil supplements. This way you get the goodness of DHA to maintain optimum fatty acid levels in the body without adding oily fish to your diet every day.”

Five quick tips to help you get more omega-3 into your diet

So how can you get more omega-3 into your diet? Here are five quick tips to help you:

  1. Eat two portions of fish per week.
  2. Swap out non-oily fish for an oily fish at least once a week.
  3. Add non-fish products to your diet that contain omega-3 such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds and walnuts.
  4. Check ALA quantities against DHA and EPA, especially on non-animal based products.
  5. Add a clinically proven fish oil supplement to your diet.

Photo by Caroline Attwood