The intake of omega-3 fatty acids in Germany is less than 0.1 grams per day, although experts put the daily requirement at more than 3 grams (1). So we take in far too little omega 3 and consume too little omega 3-containing food. Humans absorb omega fatty acids through their diet because the body cannot produce omega 3 itself.
EPA (eicopentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the three forms of omega 3 found in omega 3 foods, should be consumed. In general, this can ensure your physical and mental well-being (7). In the course of this article we will explain the ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 in food and, above all, which foods contain a lot of omega 3 for your daily needs.
the essentials in brief
- According to experts, people in Germany suffer from a malnutrition of omega 3, which can cause muscle weakness, poor eyesight or blood pressure, among other things. For example, to avoid blood pressure, one can use and consume omega 3 foods in their daily routine(10).
- Omega 3 fatty acids cannot be produced by the body and must therefore be ingested through food or dietary supplements. Fish such as salmon, herring or sprat contain a lot of omega 3.
- One thing to consider is how to ingest omega 3. Whether through plant or animal foods or through special nutrition for pets, pregnant women, children and babies. The ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 in food is also important.
Dietary intake of omega 3: What you should know
While high omega-6 levels in the body promote inflammation, a balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids can help prevent inflammation. Since many people are undersupplied with omega 3, a sufficient and good diet with omega 3-containing foods is mandatory, otherwise an omega 3 deficiency can develop.
According to the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), the omega 3 intake should account for 0.5% of the total energy. But what does that mean for you? If your energy needs are between 1900kcal and 2400kcal on average(2), you should be consuming just over 1 gram of fat. It is also recommended to take omega 3 with vitamin E, found in avocados, sweet potatoes or spinach, to protect your body from possible pollutants.
Which animal-based omega 3 foods are there?
Animal omega 3 foods contain a particularly large amount of docosapentaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The body is able to utilize DHA and EPA directly, so it can be used more efficiently, unlike plant-based omega 3 foods, which mainly contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
|Animal products||EPA content in mg / 100 g||DHA content in mg / 100 g|
|sprat||about 842 mg||about 2238 mg|
|herring||about 796 mg||about 1242 mg|
|Salmon||about 600 mg||about 1155 mg|
|mackerel||about 600 mg||about 740 mg|
|halibut||about 400 mg||about 502 mg|
|tuna||about 300 mg||about 600 mg|
|redfish||about 250 mg||about 330 mg|
|hake||about 115 mg||about 215 mg|
This list shows the richest animal-based omega 3 foods for your daily needs. Salmon, sprat, herring and mackerel in particular provide a lot of omega 3.
Which plant-based and vegan omega 3 foods are there?
In addition to vegetable oils with a high omega 3 content, there are also vegetable foods with a high omega 3 content. Vegetable foods also mainly contain omega 3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Here are our top 5 Omega 3 plant foods:
- Chia seeds (approx. 19 g per 100 g) can be mixed well in muesli or pudding.
- Linseed (approx. 16 g per 100 g) can also be mixed into muesli or pudding, but can also be used well in bread.
- Walnuts (approx. 8 g per 100 g) can be eaten without preparation, but also in muesli.
- Soybeans (approx. 1 g per 100 g) can be consumed with noodles or in a salad.
- Peanuts (approx. 0.6 g per 100 g) can be eaten as a side snack.
While foods with the highest omega 3 content have been presented here that contain omega 3 ALA, there are other plant foods that contain not only ALA but also EPA and DHA as found in fish.
Algae such as the Schizochytrium algae are not only healthy and vegan, but also good omega 3 EPA and DHA suppliers. However, these are mostly found in dietary supplement capsules and are ingested in this way. However, some algae can also be eaten as is.
Also note that there are many other foods that may be lower in omega 3 but provide other benefits while still providing omega 3. Examples of this are, in addition to algae, avocados, olives, almonds or kale, which contain many vitamins and other nutrients in addition to omega 3.
Which vegetable and vegan omega 3 oils are there?
Vegetable oils mainly contain omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This special form must first be converted by the body in order to be used. But that's not so wild. Vegans get enough omega 3 through a good diet, even without fish. Below is a list of the richest plant-based omega 3 oils for your daily needs. Especially linseed oil, hemp oil and walnut oil provide a lot of omega 3.
|vegetable oils||ALA percentage in mg / 100 g|
|linseed oil||approx. 54 g|
|hemp oil||about 18g|
|walnut oil||about 12.9g|
|rapeseed oil||approx. 9.1g|
|soybean oil||about 8g|
|wheat germ oil||about 8g|
|safflower oil||about 0.5g|
The type of preparation is important. Not every oil can be used as a substitute for sunflower oil for cooking. Linseed oil, for example, must not be heated. Such non-heatable oils can then be used for salads or the like.
Do Pets Like Dogs Need Extra Omega 3 Foods?
Your dog or cat, like us humans, cannot produce omega 3 themselves and must be ingested through food. So do I have to give my dog fish oil or fish and other omega 3 foods in general to cover my four-legged friend's daily needs?
The answer is no. Usually the normal dog or cat food contains omega 3 or at least some omega 3 can be bought. This is enough to cover the daily requirement.
Dogs and cats in particular need omega 3 to prevent diet-related health disorders. In addition, the fatty acid has a positive effect on dogs and cats in many other areas. The following are other benefits that omega 3 food and omega 3 in general brings to dogs and cats:
- The immune system and metabolism are positively influenced
- brain and eye development
- Skin, coat and bone health
- support in dermatoses
- Cell structure is supported
- Inflammatory response is supported
- blood circulation and cholesterol are positively influenced
- natural metabolic processes and immune system in the body are supported
- brain development, fine motor skills and visual acuity are positively influenced
As already mentioned, an adequate omega 3 supply is also important for your pets. Just like in humans, high omega-6 levels in the body promote inflammation. Balancing with omega 3 can help prevent inflammation.
Which omega-3 foods are particularly suitable for pregnant women?
Do you have to take omega 3 when pregnant? Are you allowed to do that at all, for the benefit of the child, or does the recording still damage it in the end? Which omega 3 foods are well tolerated? Uncertainty is particularly high during the first pregnancy. That's why we want to answer these and other questions for you below.
If the pregnant person is sufficiently supplied with Omega 3 EPA and DHA, so is the child, since the mother also provides the child with the food intake. If omega 3 DHA and EPA are not regularly consumed by pregnant women, the mother's omega 3 stores will be depleted. Among other things, omega 3 promotes child growth and development(7).
Vegetable foods such as chia seeds can also contain omega 3. In this way, pregnant women can also meet their daily needs. However, the form of omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid contained here must first be processed by the body before it can be used (Image source: ValeriaLu / Pixabay).
So you might think that the more fish you eat, the better off your child will be. You should definitely be careful here! Although one should take in omega 3, it is important to avoid harmful substances or other risks. Now you can find out how. The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) and the "Omega-3 Working Group" recommend taking in at least 200 mg DHA per day during pregnancy and breastfeeding to provide for the mother and child(7).
Pregnant women should be careful with their diet, how much and which fish they eat.
However, a diet high in fats such as omega 3 can have an adverse effect on cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. You should also consider that predatory fish such as tuna, swordfish or hake are often contaminated with pollutants. Instead, you can try mackerel, herring, salmon or sardines.
Which omega 3 foods are well tolerated by babies and children?
Now that we have told you how Omega 3 should be consumed by pregnant women. This raises the obvious question of how it is with growing babies or children. This is how Omega 3 promotes growth or eyesight(7). However, there is insufficient evidence that omega 3 helps with ADHD.(3)
Even if the positive effect on children cannot be determined with certainty, it still makes sense to provide your child with sufficient omega 3. Your child should receive omega 3 alone for a good omega fatty acid balance. There is enough baby food or milk that contains omega 3, among other things.
What is the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 in food?
It is difficult to weigh the ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 correctly. Also because you may not deal with omega 3 foods or omega fatty acids in general. A good omega 3 supply in relation to omega 6 is recommended for a balanced and healthy diet(4).
Omega 3 is found in food, especially in fish. In order to get enough omega 3, it is advisable to regularly eat fish or other omega 3-containing foods. But pay attention to where the fish comes from. (Image source: DanaTentis / Pixabay).
For a healthy balance of the physical inflammatory processes, you should consume omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids in a ratio of 1:5 (DGE), according to experts. According to studies, Germans consume far too many omega-6 fatty acids, also because omega 6 fatty acids are used in large quantities in daily cooking and are found in sunflower oil, margarine or frying fats. This promotes inflammation in the body.
In order to still achieve a 1:5 balance, you can use oils with a better omega 6 fatty acid and omega 3 fatty acid balance in the kitchen. Examples include soybean oil, walnut oil, canola oil and linseed oil. Even with fish that are expected to have a high omega 3 content, fish from breeding farms can have significantly lower omega 3 values. So pay attention to where your fish comes from.
For whom are there alternatives to omega 3 foods?
A good way to get omega 3 is through animal foods such as herring, salmon or sprat. Vegetable foods such as seeds or oils can also be consumed with certain meals. But when does it make sense, if at all, to replace omega 3 foods with supplements or capsules? You can now find out for whom an alternative makes sense.
If you do not want to consume any foods containing omega 3, for example because you are pregnant, you can use dietary supplements. Omega 3 capsules can meet daily omega 3 needs (Image source: monicore / Pixabay).
Normally you can assume that your body absorbs enough omega-3 fatty acids with a wholesome and balanced diet(4). However, if you do not eat fish, such as with a vegan diet, hardly any omega 3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are absorbed. The conversion of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) to EPA and DHA is also limited.
Supplementing with omega 3 supplements makes sense if you are a vegetarian and therefore do not get omega 3 from fish. Although you can get omega 3 from plant-based omega 3 foods, they mostly contain omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This special form must first be converted by the body in order to be used. If you, as a vegetarian, would like to absorb all forms of omega 3 more effectively and easily, omega 3 capsules are suitable.
People who do not eat fish
People who don't eat or don't like fish are the same as vegetarians. A more efficient Omega 3 utilization is possible here. Note, however, that there are many omega 3 capsules that contain fish . Vegetarians should also take this into account. Alternatively, you can also get Omega 3 DHA and EPA through plant-based foods such as algae. Here the amount of omega 3 is relatively small. Also, most seaweed is found in supplements rather than as a regular dish.
On a low-fat diet
If you are about to go on a low-fat diet and avoid fatty fish and also avoid fatty, vegetable oils, omega 3 capsules are a good idea. Unlike vegetarians, you can also use capsules that contain fish. These cover your daily dose of omega-3. Algae, which potentially contain omega 3 EPA and DHA, are usually not very greasy and can be consumed, but the proportion of omega 3 is rather low here.
For pregnant women
Here, too, the use of fortified foods or supplements containing DHA can be considered. Pregnant women who want to avoid the risk of harmful substances, such as mercury, from predatory fish can take omega 3 supplements. Dietary supplements are suitable for not only getting Omega 3 ALA, but also DHA and EPA.
For cardiovascular patients
For cardiovascular patients who need to consume more omega 3(4), supplements can be used to achieve this. Here the dietary supplement is actually only used as a supplement and can be combined with fish or the like. It should be discussed in advance with a doctor and nutritionist to know the risks and effects.
For competitive athletes
Achieving an elevated reference value can be beneficial for competitive athletes(7). In combination with omega 3 foods, an increased value can be achieved, which the body needs at a corresponding performance level.
An increased reference value can be useful for competitive athletes.
However, before supplementing your diet and ramping up your omega 3 consumption, consult a doctor or nutritionist first. You should also be aware that, contrary to many claims, high levels of omega 3 do not protect you from cardiovascular problems(5,6).
lack of time
Lack of time can occur in combination with other reasons mentioned here. If you do not have the time to prepare a lunch with salmon, seaweed and chia seeds every day and you need it to be quick, you can also get omega 3 through dietary supplements.
When making the right choice of omega 3 foods, you should make sure that you consume all forms of EPA, DHA and ALA in a balanced way. You have learned in which different animal and vegetable foods they occur, what needs to be considered for certain people such as pregnant women or children and what the ratio of omega 3 in food to omega 6 is made up of.
Omega 3, while not a miracle cure for depression(8) or dementia(9), is an essential nutrient for your body's health, but one that your body can't produce itself, so you should get it from food. If you cannot get enough omega 3 from food for one of the reasons listed here, it is advisable to rely on dietary supplements that meet your daily needs and thus maintain a healthy diet .
Nutrition report of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE); 2012. Source
The Techniker Krankenkasse gives a guide value for people from 25 to under 51 years of age: 1900 kcal for women and 2400 kcal for men. Source
"Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents" Cochrane Database Systematic Review. 2012 Jul 11;7:CD007986 Source
BfR Information No. 034/2006 of 19 July 2006: Do fish consumers have to supplement their diet with fish oil capsules? Source
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Popoff F, Balaciano G, Bardach A, Comandé D, Irazola V, Catalano HN, & Izcovich A (2019). Omega 3 fatty acid supplementation after myocardial infarction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC cardiovascular disorders, 19(1), 136 Source
Working group Omega-3 eV: What are the effects of omega-3 fatty acids?(2019) Source
Appleton KM, Sallis HM, Perry R, Ness AR, Churchill R. Omega-3 fatty acids for depression in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Nov 5;(11):CD004692 Source
Sydenham E, Dangour AD, Lim WS. Omega 3 fatty acid for the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD005379 Source
Prof. Dr. Philip Calder, Nutritional Immunologist at the University of Southampton Medical School, on the potential of oily fish and n-3 fatty acids in the first plenary presentation at the DGE Congress 2017 in Kiel. Source