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The important nutrient you’re not getting enough of (and how to get it)

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, October 10, 2012 - 3:24pm

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There’s a super-important nutrient that, chances are, you’re not getting enough of: omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a nutrient powerhouse, shown to improve heart health and mood. There are two kinds of omega-3s, in particular, that are important for overall health: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). “They are longer than other omega-3s (like alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), so they make your cell membranes more fluid, which helps brain, eye and nerve cells function better,” says Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists. Yet most Americans only get 100 mg a day of DHA/EPA, far short of the recommended 250 mg.

Must-Read: 4 Foods You Should Be Eating for Brain Power

All sorts of foods have been boasting omega-3s lately, from orange juice to bread. Amy Paturel, M.S., M.P.H., reported for EatingWell magazine on how to get more of these healthy fats in your diet. She found there are three main ways you can get DHA/EPA in your diet: by eating foods with naturally occurring DHA/EPA, by eating foods fortified with DHA/EPA or by taking a supplement. Here’s how much you get from various food sources:

Related: 4 More Nutrients You Might Not Be Getting Enough Of

NATURAL
• Wild cold-water fish make DHA/EPA from the algae they eat. Per 4-oz.serving you get 2,085 mg from salmon, 1,110 mg from sardines and 305 mg from light tuna.
• Seaweed (nori) and kelp (wakame, kombu or dulse) are both algae, which produce some DHA/EPA. In a 1-oz. serving, you get 4-134 mg.

Must-Read: 6 of the Healthiest Fish to Eat (and 6 to Avoid)
Recipes to Try: Easy Salmon Cakes & More Salmon Recipes

FORTIFIED
• Eggs: Chickens turn some of the omega-3s from flaxseed in their feed into DHA/EPA. 1 large egg can contain 30 to150 mg omega-3s (some of which is DHA/EPA).
• Milk: Some brands of milk add fish oil or algal oil to give a DHA/EPA boost (don’t worry, you can’t taste it!). 1 cup of fortified milk delivers 30 to 50 mg of DHA/EPA.
• Peanut butter: Like milk, some brands are adding fish oil. A 2-tablespoon serving provides 32 mg DHA/EPA.

Bottom line: Cold-water fish is the best source. “Nature packages nutrients like DHA/EPA with other substances like fat that facilitate absorption and effectiveness,” says Shelke. Fortified foods or a supplement can help up your intake.

Related: Do You Need an Omega-3 Supplement?

Do you purchase omega-3-fortified foods? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Kerri-Ann Jennings, Health Blog, Health, Nutrition

Kerri-Ann Jennings
Kerri-Ann Jennings is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University.

Kerri-Ann asks: Do you purchase omega-3-fortified foods?

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