Sneak in more heart-healthy omega-3 with these tips

by Kaiser Permanente |
Grilled salmon and vegetables on a plate.

High-fat foods have gotten a bad rap over the last few decades. But healthy fats — like omega-3 fatty acids — are an important part of a balanced diet.

Types of omega-3

There are 3 main types of omega-3: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). ALA is found in mostly plant sources, such as walnuts and oils. And EPA and DHA are found in fish, like salmon. Your body can convert ALA into other types of omega-3 — yet it’s converted in small amounts. That’s why it’s important to eat not only foods with ALA, but also foods that have omega-3 EPA and DHA.

Health benefits of omega-3

Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation, which can help protect against chronic diseases. And the health benefits don’t stop there. Omega-3 may also help:1

  • Lower cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Reduce the effects of mental health conditions like depression
  • And more

With so many possible health benefits packed into this fatty acid, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. So, which foods contain the most omega-3? Fish — such as mackerel, halibut, salmon, and tuna — is one of the best sources. Eating these types of fish can benefit your heart and reduce the risk of heart disease.2

Here are 7 ways to sneak more omega-3 into your diet — including creative twists on fish recipes.

Sprinkle flax seed on a salad

Get more omega-3 and fiber into your diet by adding ground flax seed to a salad. Flax seeds have a mild nutty, earthy flavor, so you’ll hardly notice the addition. You might want to consider adding ground flax seed to lots of foods — like overnight oats or a hearty cornbread.

Add chia seeds to your smoothie

Chia seeds may be tiny, but they’re packed with important nutrients, including protein, fiber, and omega-3. Similar to ground flax seed, chia also has a mild nutty flavor that you’ll hardly notice in a smoothie. You can also add chia seeds to coconut pudding for a healthy dessert option.

Use walnut butter

Peanut and almond butter are the big stars in the nut butter world, but from a nutritional standpoint, walnut butter may have them beat. Although walnut butter has slightly less protein than the other nut butter options, it contains the most omega-3. Add a spoonful to your oatmeal or use it as a substitute for peanut or almond butter when baking.

Snack on soy

Soybeans are another great source of omega-3 — especially if you’re looking for a healthy, on-the-go snack option. Consider trying edamame, baked tofu, or soy-based "dairy" products — like cheese, milk, or yogurt — for a snack rich in protein and omega-3.

Nosh on nori, seaweed, and spirulina

If you’re looking for a plant-based omega-3 option, consider trying nori, seaweed, or spirulina (a supplement made from blue-green algae). Here are a few ways to add these options to your diet:

  • Nori: Nori is most commonly used in sushi rolls. And you can eat strips of it as a to-go snack or sprinkle nori flakes on a salad. You can also find nori seasoning spice at many markets and grocery stores.
  • Seaweed: Toss together a seaweed salad as a side dish or use it as an accent to a grain bowl.
  • Spirulina: You can add spirulina powder to a smoothie or protein shake for a quick nutrient boost.

Buy grass-fed meat, dairy, and egg products

These products typically contain higher levels of omega-3 than the non-grass-fed options. Most labels will let you know if the product was grass-fed, so be sure to check.

Try a new spin on a fish dish

While the above tips can help you sneak more omega-3 into your diet, keep in mind that not all omega-3 sources are the same. Eating fish — like herring, salmon, and even sardines — is still one of the best ways to get this important fatty acid into your diet. Try one of these healthy recipes if you’re looking for new ways to eat more fish:

How much omega-3 is too much?

As with any diet change, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor first — especially if you’re trying a new supplement. Some supplements can interfere with current medications.

And supplements aren’t always the best way to boost your health. Instead, focus on healthy habits, like eating a balanced diet full of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, plant-based protein, and these omega-3-rich foods.

Explore cardiac care resources

Find heart-healthy lifestyle tips and evidence-based treatments for cardiac care. Learn more.

1"Omega-3: Facts and Myths about Its Health Benefits," Medical News Today, December 10, 2021.

2"Omega-3 in Fish: How Eating Fish Helps Your Heart," Mayo Clinic, April 19, 2022.