Many people prefer to avoid fish because they don’t like the taste or because of the potential for mercury contamination. You can increase your intake of plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, or you can take omega-3 supplements.
Plant or Fish Oil?
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are made from either fish oils or from plant oils such as flax seed oil, but there are some structural differences between the two sources. Fish oil contains two long-chain fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are the forms of omega-3s that your body uses for a variety of purposes. Flax and other plant oils contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is also an omega-3 fatty acid, but is slightly different from EPA and DHA. Your body should be able to convert the ALA to DHA or EPA. Algal oil, which is made from ocean algae, is the one plant source of omega-3 fatty acids that contains pre-formed DHA. Algal oil is also sold as a dietary supplement.
Omega-3’s in the Diet
Cold-water oily fish, like salmon, herring and tuna, are good sources for the omega-3 fatty acids, but there are plenty of plant-based foods you can eat if you don’t want to consume fish. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds, canola oil, soy, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Research suggests eating flax seeds may help to prevent cardiovascular disease, but the evidence is not as strong for flax as it is for fish oil and fish oil supplements.
Omega-3 Supplement Safety
Both fish- and plant-based omega-3 fatty acid supplements are safe to take as long as you follow the label directions. Taking these supplements for long periods of time may lead to vitamin E deficiencies in some people, and taking large amounts of omega-3 supplements may interfere with blood clotting or interact with certain medications. It’s always best to speak with your health care provider before taking large amounts of any dietary supplements.