Top 10 Foods Highest in Omega 3 Fatty Acids

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Top 10 Foods Highest in Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat associated with various health benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease (1,2), reducing the risk and severity of dementia (3), alleviating inflammation in arthritis (4), and reduction of triglyceride levels. (5) Omega 3s are 'essential fats' as they cannot be made in the body, and must be obtained via diet.

The 3 principal omega-3 fatty acids are:

Note: Most health benefits of omega 3s are attributed to DHA and EPA forms of omega 3s. This is partly due to the high concentration of DHA in the brain, and also because ALAs have not been extensively studied. (6) The body can convert ALA fats from plant foods, however, the efficiency of conversion varies from person to person, with average estimates suggesting that 6% of ALAs get converted to EPA, while 3.8% get converted to DHA. (7) ALAs are not totally without benefits, and more studies need to be conducted to fully understand the role of ALAs. (8,9)

High omega-3 foods include flaxseeds, chia seeds, fish, walnuts, tofu, shellfish, canola oil, navy beans, brussels sprouts, and avocados. The adequate intake (AI) for ALA omega 3 fats is 1.6g per day (10). No adequate intake target for EPA and DHAs exists, so 1.6g is presented in this article to make it easier to compare sources of omega 3s.

Below are the top 10 foods high in omega 3 fatty acids. For more, see the list of foods with a high omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, and the complete list of over 200 foods high in omega 3s.

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Foods High in Omega 3s by Nutrient Density (100 Gram Serving Size)

This ranking lets you know which foods have the most Omega 3s per gram of food.

FoodServingOmega 3s
1. Flaxseed Oil 100 grams 3341% AI
2. Flax Seeds 100 grams 1426% AI
3. Chia Seeds 100 grams 1114% AI
4. Walnuts 100 grams 568% AI
5. Raw Atlantic Mackerel (Sashimi) 100 grams 157% AI
6. Fish Roe (Mixed Species) 100 grams 152% AI
7. Farmed Atlantic Salmon 100 grams 145% AI
8. Cooked Whitefish 100 grams 114% AI
9. Bluefin Tuna (Cooked) 100 grams 104% AI
10. Cooked Pacific Oysters 100 grams 89% AI
See the complete list of Omega 3s foods ranked by a 100 gram serving size.

Foods High in Omega 3s by Calorie Density (200 Calorie Serving Size)

This ranking lets you know which foods have the most Omega 3s per calorie of food. It is ideal for those who want to maximize their Omega 3s intake per calorie of food, reducing their overall calorie intake to lose weight.

FoodServingOmega 3s
1. Flaxseed Oil 200 calories 756% AI
2. Flax Seeds 200 calories 534% AI
3. Chia Seeds 200 calories 459% AI
4. Fish Roe 200 calories 212% AI
5. Walnuts 200 calories 174% AI
6. Raw Atlantic Mackerel (Sashimi) 200 calories 153% AI
7. Wild Salmon 200 calories 152% AI
8. Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan) 200 calories 147% AI
9. Farmed Salmon 200 calories 141% AI
10. Kale 200 calories 135% AI
See the complete list of Omega 3s foods ranked by a 200 calorie serving size.

Fats and Oils Rich in Omega 3s (Ranked per tablespoon of oil)

FoodServingOmega 3s
1. Flaxseed Oil per tblsp 454% AI
2. Salmon Oil per tblsp 291% AI
3. Menhaden Oil per tblsp 226% AI
4. Sardine Oil per tblsp 194% AI
5. Herring Oil per tblsp 94% AI
6. Walnut Oil per tblsp 88% AI
7. Canola Oil per tblsp 80% AI
8. Canola Oil per tblsp 80% AI
9. Soybean Oil per tblsp 58% AI
10. Corn and Canola Oil per tblsp 51% AI

Foods Highest in Omega 3s By Calorie Density (per 200 calorie serving)

Below are the daily adequate intakes (%AI) established for omega 3 foods. Adequate intakes are used when there is not enough data to formulate a recommended dietary allowance (RDA). The adequate intake of omega 3 fats ranges between 0.5g - 1.6g per day for most people. (10)

Life StageRDA
0-6 months old0.5g
7-12 months old0.5g
1-3 years old0.7g
4-8 years old0.9g
9-13 years old1.2g
14+ years old1.6g
9-13 years old1g
14+ years old1.1g
14-50 years old1.4g
14-50 years old1.3g

Health Benefits of Omega 3s

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease - Studies suggest that consumption of 1 gram of omega 3s per day helps reduce the risk of all-cause mortality in patients with known coronary heart disease. (1) This is especially true of the EPA (eicosapentaenoic fatty acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) forms of omega 3s.(1,2)
  • Reduced severity of dementia and mental decline - Omega 3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of cognitive decline, but not Alzheimer's. (3) The association is stronger for people over 55 years old. Linking diet to health is difficult, however, and studies do not always show benefits for mental health. (12) With that being said, there is very little harm in consuming a 1g supplement of omega 3 or eating more omega 3 foods.
  • Alleviation of arthritis and inflammation - Several studies associate omega 3 consumption with alleviation and modulation of pain from swollen arthritic joints. (4) One double-blind randomized trial gave participants 2 doses (1.8g and 2.1g) of omega 3 in the form of EPA and DHA. Patients who consumed the omega3s vs placebo showed improvement in arthritis based on a physician's evaluation and were also able to reduce the amount of pain medication they consume. (12)
  • Reduced triglyceride levels - As little as 1 gram per day of fish oil ( 0.21 g EPA and 0.12 g DHA) reduce triglyceride levels in people with high blood cholesterol and triglycerides. (5) Higher doses of omega 3s (EPA and DHA) also help reduce triglyceride levels with little ill effect on total blood cholesterol. For people with blood triglycerides over 500mg/dl a prescription of omega 3 supplements is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as an effective treatment. (13)
  • Improvement of ADHD in children - At least one double-blind dose-response study found that omega 3 supplements in addition to a drug of choice (methylphenidate) showed significant clinical improvement over those who did not take omega 3 supplements. Children were given 100mg - 400mg of omega 3 depending on weight. More studies need to be done to confirm this finding. (14)
  • Enhanced Sleep - Omega 3 consumption is associated with better sleep. In one study participants were either given salmon 3 times a week or a similar serving of a food low in omega 3s like pork, chicken, or beef. The people who consumed salmon experienced lower sleep latency (fell asleep faster), maintained better heart rate variability, and self-reported better sleep quality and daily functioning. (15)
  • Association with reduced anxiety and depression - Initial studies show a positive association between consuming fish and omega-3 fats reducing anxiety and depression. (16,17) Studies are still preliminary and more studies need to be conducted to provide a stronger link between omega-3s, mental health, and stress relief.

Omega 3 for Vegans and Vegetarians

Vegans and vegetarians tend to have lower levels of DHA and EPA Omega 3 fats. Both these forms of omega 3s are found mainly in fish products (18).

Vegans and vegetarians can convert ALA omega 3 fats from plants into DHA and EPA, however, the process is slow, and is aided by a good omega 3 to 6 ratio. (19)

Consumption of both ALA and EPA appear to have little effect on the DHA levels of breast milk. (19) DHA is important for brain development, (20) so consumption of DHA or DHA supplements is advised for lactating vegans. (19)

Vegans and vegetarians should consider an omega-3 supplement, such as those from algal oil. (18) Interestingly, quinoa also contains some DHA and can be a good food for vegetarians. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 0.028g (28mg) of DHA.

Is Algae and Algal Oil a Good Source of Omega 3s?

Certain types of algae and agal supplements can be a good source of omega3s, particularly for people on a plant-based (vegetarian) diet who don't eat fish and are ok with eating algae.

This study found that algal supplements are an effective way to increase levels of healthy DHAs in vegetarians. (21)

This study found that consumption of the microalgae Phaeodactylum tricornutum (PT) created a similar increase in omega 3 blood levels as those taking fish oil supplements. (22)

Does Olive Oil Provide Omega 3 Fats?

While olive oil is a heart-healthy fat it only provides 0.1g (6% AI) of omega 3s per tablespoon. This is considerably lower than the 1.28g (80% AI) of omega 3s in a tablespoon of canola oil.

Are Eggs High in Omega 3s?

Eggs that advertise high omega 3 content are typically from hens given foods high in omega 3s. These foods can include flax seeds, chia seeds, or even fish oil. In order to get DHA, and EPA from eggs, the chickens should be fed a food that also has those fats. (23)

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Data Sources and References

  1. Covington MB. Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease Am Fam Physician. 2004 Jul 1;70(1):133-40. 15259529
  2. Kapoor K, Alfaddagh A, Al Rifai M, Bhatt DL, Budoff MJ, Nasir K, Miller M, Welty FK, McEvoy JW, Dardari Z, Shapiro MD, Blumenthal RS, Tsai MY, Blaha MJ. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis J Am Heart Assoc. 2021 Jun;10(11):e021431. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.121.021431. Epub 2021 May 27. 34041918
  3. Kosti RI, Kasdagli MI, Kyrozis A, Orsini N, Lagiou P, Taiganidou F, Naska A. Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive function Nutr Rev. 2022 May 9;80(6):1445-1458. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuab078. 34605891
  4. Simopoulos AP. The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Rheumatoid Arthritis Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Sep;54(3):438-63. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/54.3.438. 1908631
  5. McKenney JM, Sica D. Triglyceride-lowering effect of omega-3 LC-polyunsaturated fatty acids--a review Pharmacotherapy. 2007 May;27(5):715-28. doi: 10.1592/phco.27.5.715. 17461707
  6. Egert S, Somoza V, Kannenberg F, Fobker M, Krome K, Erbersdobler HF, Wahrburg U. Are all n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids created equal? Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Mar;61(3):314-25. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602523. Epub 2006 Sep 13. 16969378
  7. Broughton KS, Bayes J, Culver B. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? Nutr Res. 2010 Oct;30(10):731-8. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.09.005. 21056289
  8. Egert S, Somoza V, Kannenberg F, Fobker M, Krome K, Erbersdobler HF, Wahrburg U. Are all n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids created equal? Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Mar;61(3):314-25. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602523. Epub 2006 Sep 13. 16969378
  9. Wu JH, Micha R, Imamura F, Pan A, Biggs ML, Ajaz O, Djousse L, Hu FB, Mozaffarian D. Health benefits of plant-derived ?-linolenic acid Br J Nutr. 2012 Jun;107 Suppl 2(0 2):S214-27. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512001602. 22591895
  10. National Academies Press. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids
  11. Bo Y, Zhang X, Wang Y, You J, Cui H, Zhu Y, Pang W, Liu W, Jiang Y, Lu Q. Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive decline: a systematic review Nutrients. 2017 Jan 10;9(1):54. doi: 10.3390/nu9010054. 28075381
  12. Bahadori B, Uitz E, Thonhofer R, Trummer M, Pestemer-Lach I, McCarty M, Krejs GJ. The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Patients With Active Rheumatoid Arthritis Receiving DMARDs Therapy: Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2010 Mar-Apr;34(2):151-5. doi: 10.1177/0148607109342130. 20375422
  13. McKenney JM, Sica D. Fish oil and the management of hypertriglyceridemia Pharmacotherapy. 2007 May;27(5):715-28. doi: 10.1592/phco.27.5.715. 17461707
  14. Akhondzadeh S, Mohammadi MR, Khademi M. Omega-3 and Zinc supplementation as complementary therapies in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder BMC Psychiatry. 2004 Apr 8;4:9. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-4-9. 15070418
  15. Hansen AL, Olson G, Dahl L, Thornton D, Grung B, Graff IE, Fr√łyland L, Thayer JF. Fish consumption, sleep, daily functioning, and heart rate variability Nutrients. 2014 Nov 26;6(12):5405-18. doi: 10.3390/nu6125405. 25431880
  16. Ross BM, Seguin J, Sieswerda LE. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and anxiety disorders Lipids Health Dis. 2007 Sep 18;6:21. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-6-21. 17877810
  17. Wu S, Ding Y, Wu F, Li R, Hou J, Mao P. Fish consumption and risk of depression: Epidemiological evidence from prospective studies Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Jan;48:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.11.008. Epub 2014 Nov 21. 25446949
  18. Davis BC, Kris-Etherton PM. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vegetarian diets Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):640S-646S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.3.640S. 12936959
  19. Fokkema MR, Brouwer DA, Hasperhoven MB, Martini IA, Muskiet FA. alpha-Linolenic acid supplementation and conversion to n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in humans Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2000 Nov;63(5):287-92. doi: 10.1054/plef.2000.0216. 11090255
  20. Weiser MJ, Butt CM, Mohajeri MH. DHA Effects in Brain Development and Function Nutrients. 2016 Feb 17;8(2):99. doi: 10.3390/nu8020099. 26901223
  21. Sarter B, Kelsey KS, Schwartz TA, Harris WS. Algal supplementation of vegetarian eating patterns improves plasma and serum docosahexaenoic acid concentrations and omega-3 indices: a systematic literature review Clin Nutr. 2015 Apr;34(2):212-8. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2014.03.003. Epub 2014 Mar 14. 24679552
  22. Ryckebosch E, Bruneel C, Termote-Verhalle R, Goiris K, Muylaert K, Foubert I. Oral Bioavailability of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Carotenoids from the Microalgae Phaeodactylum tricornutum in Healthy Young Adults Food Chem. 2014 Oct 1;160:393-400. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.03.087. Epub 2014 Mar 24. 24799253
  23. Ehr IJ, Persia ME, Bobeck EA. Omega-3 fatty acid profile of eggs from laying hens fed diets supplemented with chia, fish oil, and flaxseed Poult Sci. 2017 Jun 1;96(6):1791-1799. doi: 10.3382/ps/pew462. 28108729
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