National and international health organizations recommend that we consume an average of 250 to 500 mg of EPA + DHA daily, yet adults in the US consume only about 90 mg per day, a far cry from the amounts recommended to support healthy hearts, eyes, and brains (1).
The American Heart Association tells us to eat fatty fish at least twice a week to ensure the needed average daily intake of EPA and DHA (2). No other food naturally provides a hefty dose of these health-boosting fatty acids. Consuming enough EPA and DHA can decrease your risk of having dangerous, abnormal heartbeats; lower your blood triglyceride levels; and slow the formation of plaque in your blood vessels. Because DHA in particular is critical for the development of a baby’s eyes and brain, experts recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding woman consume low-mercury fatty fish twice weekly (3).
3 Ways to EPA + DHA
Fatty fish offer even more than these critical omega-3 fatty acids. Their healthful fats are packaged along with protein, vitamins, and minerals. But not everyone is willing or able to eat fish regularly, so fortified foods and supplements can fill the gap.
- Fatty fish: Some good choices are salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, and herring. The Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant and breastfeeding women, women who may become pregnant, and children to eat light tuna more often than white albacore tuna because light tuna contains less mercury (4).
- Fortified foods: You will find a variety of foods with added omega-3 fatty acids. If you are not a regular fish eater, seek out those foods fortified specifically with EPA or DHA. Fortified milk, yogurt, and orange juice are just a few items on the supermarket shelves that fill the bill.
- Supplements: These can be a good choice if you can’t meet your needs through food alone. It’s smart to check in with your healthcare provider before starting new supplements. When choosing a fish oil supplement in a sea of options, look for the total amount of EPA + DHA, not the total amount of fish oil, which will be higher. Be sure to look at the serving size too. For example, a bottle may show that a single softgel contains 1,000 mg of fish oil, but with careful review, you may notice that is has only 500 mg of EPA + DHA for 2 softgels or 250 mg per softgel. Vegan supplement users can find some algal options.
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND.
Some of this information was gathered at a partially-sponsored educational meeting.
- "Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, 2 Nov. 2016, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/#h10
- "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids." American Heart Association, 6 Oct. 2016, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.WLCmU4RzFkg.
- Eidelman, Arthur I. and Richard J. Schanler. "Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk." AAP News and Journals Gateway, 2017, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.long.
- "Questions & Answers from the FDA/EPA Advice on What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know about Eating Fish." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 Jan. 2017, https://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm534873.htm#VI.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.