Sometimes one of the hardest things about building a healthy diet for yourself is knowing when you are getting enough of the various required nutrients.
Not only does your body need a vast range of vitamins, nutrients, and macronutrients such as protein, but these elements are all mixed into your fresh and processed foods. As a result, it can be hard to know exactly what you are getting and in what quantities.
While supplements can offer the advantage of an exact amount, even those are added on to the nutrients you are already consuming in your diet.
With just a few exceptions though, it is hard to go over the required amount.
This is why, once you have a rough idea of what you need, given your own health conditions, access to food types, budget, and so on, the main thing to do is to ensure that you get a variety of foods, within a broad and healthy diet.
If you know you are short on fibre, you may want to consume more chia, for example, and if your digestive system does not tolerate wheat, you will want to cut down on the pasta and bread.
However, beyond that, a healthy lifestyle is mostly about regular exercise and a diet that is big on vegetables, low-fat protein, whole grains, beans, and legumes, and dairy products (unless, of course, you are vegan).1
But what about omega-3? How do you know if you have sufficient amounts in your diet – or whether you should consume more?
The role of omega-3s in a healthy diet
Omega-3s are important for brain functioning, as well as heart health, inflammation, preventing depression, and much more.2
They are the ‘good’ fat your body needs, but cannot otherwise produce on its own.
What are the signs of an omega-3 deficiency?
Most of us know that consuming food containing omega-3s is an essential part of our diet. Still, most people do not get enough omega-3s, and a significant proportion of them are severely deficient.3
If you have an omega-3 deficiency, you could experience some of these symptoms4:
- dry skin
- poor concentration
- joint pain
- brain functioning issues
- weight gain
- eyesight problems
Of course, if you gain a bit of weight over a festive holiday, that does not necessarily equate to an omega-3 deficiency.
But if you have a few of the above symptoms, and you consume little to no fish in your daily diet, then a deficiency is something you may want to rule out.
Dry skin, for example, has a range of potential causes, but one of those is a lack of omega-3s, which are important for keeping skin cells moist and strong.
Omega-3s are fatty acids that are part of your skin’s lipid content, and they help bolster your skin’s barrier function, which acts a bit like a seal to keep moisture in, and irritants out.5
If you are not getting enough omega-3s, along with dry skin, you could also experience brittle hair, thin nails, rashes, and dandruff.6
Poor concentration and conditions such as depression or anxiety, also have multiple causes, many of which are external to your food consumption.
However, omega-3s make up a large portion of the brain. Deficiency in omega-3s can see the myelin sheath around the nerve cells deplete, which impacts how well messages are sent through the brain. That, in turn, can affect your concentration. Similarly, omega-3s are important for serotonin, which impacts mood.7
What is the minimum amount of omega-3s needed in my diet?
There are three common types of omega-3s; ALA, EPA, and DHAs.
ALAs are found most often in green sources and seeds and nuts, such as walnuts, while the latter two are found in fatty fish.
Your body can convert a little bit of the ALA omega-3s into EPA and DHAs, but it uses most of them as it would other fats.
It needs the EPA and DHAs for brain and eye health. That is why the easiest way to get the amount of omega-3s you need is by consuming a portion or two of fish a week.8
Beyond that, there are no official recommended amounts for adults.
One report, for example, suggested 0.25 grams of EPA and DHA combined.9
People who are pregnant, breastfeeding, and babies or toddlers need roughly double that, or around 500 grams of low mercury fish per week.10
People with certain health conditions may be recommended to take higher amounts of omega-3s.
For example, some studies have suggested that people with anxiety or depression could consume higher doses of omega-3, in the range of 200 to 2,200 mg per day.11 That’s one to 10 portions of fish. People trying to consume that amount of omega-3s may resort to a supplement – and should look out for one with higher amounts of EPA than DHA.12
Likewise, people who are unable to consume fish may consider supplement options, though many of these also involve fish oils.
What is the maximum amount of omega-3s needed in my diet?
There is also no firmly established upper limit for omega-3 consumption.
Extremely high doses (of around 6 fish portions per day), taken over long periods, could lower your body’s inflammatory responses.
Such high amounts could also increase how long you bleed for if you are injured. That is why people who take blood-thinning drugs should talk to their doctor before starting on omega-3 supplements.13
Last updated: 10 February 2021
Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction. Donia’s LinkedIn profile