Omega-3 fats: What Can They Do for You?

Many Canadians don’t realize how important omega-3 fats (especially those in fatty fish such as salmon) are for their long-term good health. And most of us aren’t eating nearly enough of them.

Our bodies don’t make omega-3s. These fats only come from the foods we eat. Two types of omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for good health: EPA and DHA. If you are healthy, 200–500 milligrams of DHA and EPA per day is recommended.

EPA and DHA can provide many health benefits, they can:

  • Reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke by helping to:
    • lower your triglycerides (a fat in your blood)
    • keep blood vessels (arteries) from becoming stiff
    • reduce blood pressure
    • prevent blood clots

They may also:

  • reduce inflammation
  • be important for brain and eye development in infants and during pregnancy

More studies are needed to know if omega-3s have a role in rheumatoid arthritis, mental health, or other diseases.

Where can you find omega-3 fats?

You can find both DHA and EPA omega-3s in fish and fish oil. The best sources of EPA and DHA omega-3s are fatty fish, such as fresh and canned salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, halibut, and light tuna.

By eating at least 2 servings of fatty fish each week you will get enough DHA and EPA omega-3’s each week.

There are other ways to get omega-3s. If you don’t eat fish, you can get some EPA and DHA from eating kelp and seaweed (wakame).

Some foods are fortified with omega-3s: eggs, milk, yogurt, margarine, and juice.

You can also get some omega-3s from nuts, oils, and soy products, but these don’t lower your heart disease risk as much as fatty fish.

Does eating fish have risks?

Some fish contains mercury and so there are recommended fish consumption limits in Alberta.

Health Canada also provides advice about Mercury in Fish so you can make informed fish choices. Use these guidelines when choosing fish. Talk with your doctor or dietitian about fish consumption if you are pregnant.

Learn More

Fish Consumption Advisory in Alberta.

What about omega-3 supplements?

The best way to get omega-3 fats is from food.

If you think you aren’t getting enough EPA and DHA from fish and fortified foods, talk to your dietitian, doctor, or pharmacist before starting an omega-3 supplement.

If you have high triglycerides (a fat found in your blood), your doctor or dietitian may suggest you take more EPA and DHA.

Tips about omega-3 supplements:

  • Choose supplements with EPA and DHA, not ALA.

Look for a Drug Identification Number (DIN) or a Natural Product Number (NPN) on the bottle. These numbers tell you that the supplement meets Health Canada’s guidelines.

  • Fish oil supplements rarely contain mercury.
  • If you’re allergic to fish or shellfish, or don’t eat them for other reasons, look for kelp- or seaweed-based supplements with EPA and DHA. Avoid supplements made with fish oil or krill oil. Read the ingredient list on the package.
  • Omega-3-6-9 supplements are not better than omega-3 supplements. No health benefits have been shown from taking supplements with omega 6 and omega-9 fats.

If your fish oil supplements have a “fishy” aftertaste, try:

  • storing them in the freezer and taking them when they’re frozen
  • using a supplement with a special coating (enteric coating). Look for the word enteric on the label
  • taking the supplement with a meal


  • Supplements with fish liver oil (such as cod liver oil) may have high amounts of vitamin A and D. These vitamins can build up in your body and become toxic for some people. If you’re pregnant, don’t take omega-3 supplements that have vitamin A.
  • People who take blood thinners (such as warfarin) should talk to their doctor before taking omega-3 supplements.

For more information about omega-3 fats:

See Omega-3 Fats for Heart Health and Heart Healthy Eating

Healthy Eating in the Community