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8 Best Alternatives to Fish Oil You Should Try

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 26, 2021

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are known to provide many health benefits.

But if you’re not a fan of seafood or hate the fishy aftertaste of some fish oil capsules, where do you get your omega-3s?

To answer that, we reviewed tons of medical journals and articles to find out the best and readily available alternatives to fish oil.

Can You Get Omega-3 Without Fish Oils?

food with omega 3 nutrients on a table

Many people grew up believing that the only way to consume omega-3s is through fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, trout, tuna, mackerel, etc.

But the truth is, you can get omega-3 fatty acids even without fish oil.

For non-vegetarians, the top choice is omega-3 enriched eggs, which contain a natural form of DHA and EPA.

Certain brands of juices, milk, yogurt, salad dressings, and soy beverages are also fortified with other omega-3 fats and DHA.

But if you want to get your omega-3 fats from plants, you can supplement with the following plant-based substitutes.

What is the Vegetarian Alternative To Fish Oil Supplements?

stack of walnuts, chia seeds in spoon, and a bowl filled with brussel sprouts

According to our research, the best alternative sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found in plant-based foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, algae, brussels sprouts, leafy greens, hemp seeds, canola oil, flax, chia, and other seed oils.

Luckily, these plant sources are also very easy to find.

So, here’s a list of plant-based alternatives you can use instead of fish oil.

  • Brussels sprouts

Aside from its high content of vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber, this vegetable is a great source of omega-3s.

One study found that increasing your consumption of cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts can lower risk of heart diseases by 16% [1].

  • Algae

Fish don’t naturally produce the omega-3 DHA and EPA; they get it from eating algae.

Because of this, it’s argued that algae pose a lesser risk of containing contaminants than most fish oil supplements because they’re at the bottom of the food chain.

Tip: Add algae to your diet by eating nori, seaweed, chlorella, and spirulina.

  • Chia seeds

This popular health food is known for its rich protein and fiber content.

But what many people don’t know is that they’re also an excellent plant-based source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids.

A 2007 animal study also found that chia seeds in your diet can lower blood triglycerides and increase good HDL cholesterol and inflammatory markers [2].

Tip: To boost your intake, you can sprinkle chia seeds on your salads, smoothies, or yogurts.

  • Algal oil

Algal oil is among the few—and best—vegan sources of DHA and EPA.

Some studies have found that it’s similar to seafood regarding its nutritional availability of both EPA and DHA.

Algal oil supplements usually provide 400-500 mg of combined EPA and DHA.

Tip: Most pharmacies carry algal oil supplements. Those in liquid form can be added to your favorite drinks or smoothies so you can get a healthy dose of fats.

  • Perilla Oil

Research involving 20 elderly participants found that those who replaced soybean oil with perilla oil doubled ALA levels in their blood. It also led to a rise in EPA and DHA levels in the long term.

Tip: Use perilla oil as a flavor enhancer or dressing rather than cooking oil. It’s because oils high in polyunsaturated fats oxidize with heat and form harmful free radicals that can cause disease.

  • Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds contain about 30% oil and are rich in protein, zinc, magnesium, and omega-3s.

Animal studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids in hemp seeds can boost heart health by preventing the formation of blood clots and helping it recover after a heart attack [3].

Tip: To up your intake of these seeds, incorporate them into your diet - in yogurt or smoothie.

  • Walnuts

Aside from being an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are also rich in healthy fats and ALA. In fact, these nuts are about 65% fat by weight.

Many animal studies have found that walnuts help improve brain health due to their omega-3 fatty acid content.

Tip: Add walnuts to your cereal or homemade granola, or sprinkle them on yogurt to increase your ALA intake.

  • Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds contain a good amount of manganese, magnesium, fiber, and protein. They’re also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil can also lower cholesterol.

Another study has demonstrated that it can help lower blood pressure, specifically in individuals with high blood pressure [4].

Tip: The nutty flavor of flaxseeds makes them a perfect addition to your salad or oatmeal.

Health Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

red heart toy and a stethoscope

Many studies have proven that omega-3 fatty acids provide a host of health benefits.

They have been shown to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, Crohn’s disease, and even menopause symptoms in women.

“Low intakes of omega-3 fats have been linked to a long, nasty list of diseases including heart attacks, depression, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, autoimmune diseases, ADD, allergies, and asthma. Conversely, higher intakes of omega-3 fats have been associated with protection from many of these same diseases.”

 

- Ann Kulze, MD, Nutrition and Wellness Expert

There are 11 types of omega-3 fatty acids, but the most common are ALA, DHA, and EPA.

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in dark leafy greens like spinach and kale or seeds like flax and chia.
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is often found in fish oil and algae. This compound is vital to developing the retina and brains in fetuses and babies, which is why it’s often added to infant formulas. Dietary supplementation with DHA supplements can also help reduce the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is most often found in fish oils and algae. EPA minimizes inflammation in the body and the brain, which, in turn, helps alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Along with DHA, EPA from fish is also crucial to reducing coronary heart disease risks.

Although there are no strict guidelines, most nutrition experts recommend an intake of 500 mg to 1000 mg of docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid daily. But if you already eat oily fish two to three times a week, you should be covered.

Are Omega-3 Supplements Good Enough?

woman holding a fish oil pill near her mouth

Although supplements can help you reach your daily goals, they are less effective than any food source of omega-3 fats.

But if taking an omega-3 supplement is your only option, make sure that you read the label to get the most effective formula.

Experts advise choosing a DHA supplementation derived from algae as there’s no fishlike aftertaste or risk of contamination(from mercury and other pollutants) that other fish oils may have.

FAQs

What supplement is better than fish oil?

Although both are beneficial, researchers have found that krill oil may be better than fish oil in several aspects. Krill oil is absorbed better, contains more antioxidants, and is more effective in lowering blood glucose, triglycerides, and LDL levels. Additionally, krill oil is cheaper and more accessible compared to fish oil.

Are eggs high in omega-3?

Regular eggs aren’t that high in omega-3, but they contain some omega-3 fatty acids and about 25 mg each of DHA and ALA. Omega-3 eggs have a higher amount of these essential fatty acids, providing about 100 mg to 500 mg per egg.

The Bottom Line

Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of a healthy human diet.

Luckily, getting enough of these essential nutrients is easy. By consuming certain types of fish, fish oil supplements, omega-3 fortified foods, and plant-based substitutes, you should be able to cover your body’s daily omega-3 needs.

What are your favorite fish oil alternatives? Let us know in the comments below.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4973479/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22090467
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18418423/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24126178

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