Omega-3 fatty acids are a vital part of every cell-membrane in our body. Eiconsanoids derived from Omega-3 have potent anti-inflammatory properties preventing atherosclerosis. In addition Omega-3s play a role in cancer prevention, brain development and function, vision, preventing depression, reducing pain, reducing body fat and insulin resistance.
Cardiovascular benefits of Omega-3s include: promoting vasodilation; reducing platelet aggregation, blood viscosity, blood pressure and resting pulse rate; increasing arterial compliance and ventricular filling capacity; raised HDL levels and reduced triglycerides.
To reduce the risk of heart disease the Australian Heart Foundation recommends increasing Omega-3 intake as its second Nutrition Goal within their guidelines for the management of patients with existing coronary heart disease (CHD). Nutrition Goal number two states that patients with established CHD should consume 1 g eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) + docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and > 2 g alpha linolenic acid (ALA) daily.
Short chain Omega-3’s (ALA) are essential fatty acids which our body cannot produce and must be consumed in our diet. ALA can be converted to long chain Omega-3’s (EPA and DHA) in our body. However, EPA and DHA are now also considered to be essential dietary fatty acids due to their significant health benefits.
While the health benefits of dietary Omega-3 seem clear, how to achieve the Heart Foundation’s recommended intake may be less obvious. So which foods provide which Omega-3’s?
Dietary sources of long chain Omega-3, known as marine Omega-3 (EPA and DHA) are found in seafood, particularly oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, mullet, blue mussel, calamari, oysters, herring, blue eyed cod and gemfish, as well as omega-3 enriched eggs, and of course fish oil supplements.
For prevention of CHD, 500mg EPA + DHA is recommended per day, which equates to eating some form of seafood or 2 large omega-3 enriched eggs everyday (for example, a tuna salad sandwich at lunch or 2 poached eggs for breakfast).
For existing CHD, 1000mg EPA + DHA is recommended, which equates to eating 150g serve of seafood (especially oily fish) and 2 large omega-3 enriched eggs everyday (for example, 2 poached eggs for breakfast and salad with salmon at lunch).
Plant foods rich in short chain Omega-3 (ALA)i ncludewalnuts, flaxseed/linseed oil or ground linseed, Chia seed, soybean and canola oil and margarines, tofu, and microalgae.
To consume 2g of plant Omega-3s (ALA) per day, cook with a small amount of canola oil AND use a thin spread of canola or soybean margarine on 2 slices of soy and linseed bread each day, OR alternatively, add 2 tsp Chia seed or ground linseed/flaxseed to muesli or a smoothie for breakfast and include about 5 walnut halves in morning or afternoon snack.
Nutrition Tip: store ground flaxseed/linseed in the fridge or freezer to prevent oxidation of fatty acids.
In addition to increasing Omega-3 intake, the Australian Heart Foundation nutrition guidelines also recommend the following to reduce CHD risk: replace saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, and reduce salt intake.
An accredited dietitian can provide individualised dietary advice to further reduce CHD risk in your patients.
Recommended Daily Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Amount required to achieve recommended daily intake
Short Chain ALA
Canola and Soybean oil
Soy and linseed bread
Soy beans dried
1 Tbsp or 30g (about 10 halves)
about 4 tsp
2 slices (based on Burgen)
40g (8 tsp) (based on Meadow Lea)
2 cups cooked
Long Chain EPA & DHA
Omega-3 enriched eggs
500mg EPA + DHA:
3 medium eggs