How to get the benefits of omega-3 fats without seafood

Chia seeds are a great source of omega-3 fat ALA

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat with many health benefits. 

We often associate omega-3 fats with seafood but did you know there are plant-based sources of these fats also. Read on to find out how you can reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids without seafood.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids fall into two categories:

1. Short chain omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which is an essential fatty acid. This means our body is unable to make this fat and we must get it through our diet. Sources of ALA are mostly plant-based.

2. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaeinoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). These fats are commonly associated with a diet rich in oily fish. Our body is able to make a small amount of EPA and DHA using the short chain omega-3 fat alpha-linoleic acid.

However, our body’s ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA is limited with only a small percentage of dietary ALA being converted. This process is influences by the amount of ALA in our diet, our intake of other fats, and our life stage.  

Health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids

Studies show many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly from the long-chain fatty acids (EPA, DHA and DPA).

Increased intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA and DPA) is associated with:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced cholesterol
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved immune function
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Structural integrity of our retina and nerves
  • Appropriate visual and neurological development in a foetus
Due to these health benefits, it is recommended to consume 2-3 serves of fish per week. One serve is equivalent to 150g of fish such as salmon, tinned tuna, tinned sardines, trout, barramundi etc. Oily fish is best. 

But what happens if you do not like seafood or you choose to avoid seafood for ethical reasons. Can you still get the benefits of these long-chain omega-3 fats? 

Yes! And here is how. 

Tofu is a great source of omega-3 fat alpha-linoleic acid

1. Increase your intake of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)

As we know, some of the omega-3 fat ALA from our diet can be converted into the long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. Therefore, increasing our intake of ALA rich foods can help enhance our body’s production of these healthy fats. 

Luckily ALA is found in many plant foods. Try to include these foods regularly in your diet to ensure you are meeting your ALA requirements:

  • Flaxseed/linseeds or their oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Canola oil
  • Walnuts
  • Tofu
  • Edamame
  • Seaweed/nori
For example, you could sprinkle a tablespoon of chia seeds into your morning smoothie or cereal, use canola oil in cooking, snack on a handful of walnuts and use tofu or edamame in a stir fry. 

2. Replace omega-6 fats with omega-3 fats

The omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid is a healthy fat found in many plant foods. However, it can reduce your body’s ability to convert alpha-linoleic acid into EPA and DHA. Many people consume omega-6 fats in foods that contain sunflower oil, sesame oil, and margarines or spreads made with sunflower oil. 

Replacing some of these foods with foods rich in the omega-3 fats will help your body convert more alpha-linoleic acid into EPA and DHA. For example, if you regularly cook with sunflower oil you can switch to canola oil or if you use a margarine made with sunflower oil choose one that is made from canola oil or olive oil. 

Olive oil is not a source of omega-3 fat, but it does not reduce our body’s ability to convert alpha-linoleic acid into EPA and DHA.

Eggs can be fortified with omega-3 fats and can be useful for vegetarians or people who avoid seafood

3. Fortified foods

If you dislike the taste of seafood you can utilise foods that have been fortified. This means the manufacturer has added a source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids into the product. This may not be suitable for people who are vegetarian or vegan as fish oil is often the source of omega-3 fats. However, some brands use flaxseed oil or microalgae which is appropriate for vegetarians and vegans.  

You can find fortified products at your local supermarket. Most brands will include “Omega-3” on the label or you can read the ingredients and look out for fish oil, flaxseed oil, or microalgae. 

Common fortified products include:

  • Eggs
  • Bread 
  • Milk
  • Margarine

4. Algae supplements

Algae is a rich source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Studies show that algae supplements are effective and safe. They also provide the same anti-inflammatory and heart protective properties as fish oil. 

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supplements from algae sources may be helpful for people who do not consume seafood and:

  • Have increased requirements during pregnancy and lactation 
  • Want to ensure they are getting the health benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
  • Have type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or are older as their ability to convert ALA to long chain omega-3 fats is reduced. 

You can speak with your doctor or dietitian about how best to incorporate these supplements into your diet.


There you have it! You don’t need seafood to get the health benefits of long-chain omega-3 fats. 

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