It is widely known that omega-3 fatty acids boast a wealth of health benefits, from alleviating joint pain and sharpening brain power to protecting our eyesight. A recent study, however, has gone as far to say that a diet low in omega-3 can have worse effects on the body than smoking.

The study, which took place at the University of Guelph in Canada, found that while smoking can reduce life expectancy by up to four years, low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in a person’s diet can reduce it by up to five. 

Omega-3 oils, specifically docosahexaonic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are a vital component of the skin, eyes and brain, as well as playing a crucial role during pregnancy and in the early stages of a baby’s brain development. DHA comprises over 90 per cent of the brain’s omega-3 fatty acids alone, and 25 per cent of its total fat content. It is recommended that adults should consume 250-500mg of DHA per day (which equates to roughly one portion of oily fish a week).

Since the body cannot produce these fatty acids in sufficient amounts, we need to get them from our diet. Both DHA and EPA can be found in fatty fish and seafood, particularly salmon, mackerel, sardines and shellfish. For the fish averse, cod liver oil is also a fantastic source of DHA and EPA, with a tablespoon containing as much as 1g of DHA.

Upping your intake of omega-3 becomes trickier if you follow a meat-free diet. Although DHA naturally occurs in some algaes, the majority of plant-based omega-3 comes in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This requires the body to convert it into EPA and DHA, an inefficient process which results in very little ALA being successfully converted – the remainder is stored for energy like other fats. Omega-3 enriched eggs are a good alternative, but vegans are advised to take a supplement to avoid becoming deficient. 

Think you may be in need of an omega-3 boost? Seek out these omega-3 rich foods and follow our ideas below to put them to use. 

Top 10 omega 3-rich foods 

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Shellfish
  • Anchovies
  • Omega-3 enriched eggs
  • Flaxseed (ALA)
  • Walnuts (ALA)

Try them in one of these recipes…

Hot-smoked salmon, beetroot and grains with preserved lemon crème fraîche

Diana Henry’s perfectly balanced dish requires no cooking, making it perfect for the warmer weather. View the recipe here.