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Three Alternatives To Salmon And Flax Seed For Omega-3 Fats

About the author: Greg Hayes is the author of Live Fit Blog, where he writes about fitting fitness into busy lives. You can read more about how your choice of cooking oil, including canola oil, contributes to overall health and fitness.

Popular wisdom in the media is that we, the public, should be working to reduce the amount of fat in our collective diet. Working strictly from the perspective of calories, fats have a higher caloric density than either carbohydrates or protein, and the typical Western diet is laden with saturated and trans fats, both of which are known to increase cholesterol, triglycerides, and generalized inflammation within the body. So, while a blanket recommendation to reduce fat consumption looks good on the surface, digging deeper into the science of weight loss and muscle growth shows the folly of such an approach.

As was recently highlighted, the consumption of omega-3 fats is imperative for good health and immune function. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are necessary for biochemical processes within the body, including the regulation of generalized inflammation, insulin response, and protein synthesis. Unlike omega-9 fats, humans are incapable of synthesizing these two essential fats internally, so they must be acquired by consumption. While the typical Western diet is rich in omega-6 fats, most Americans obtain little dietary omega-3 fats.

While serious body builders are less likely to suffer the negative consequences of a high fat diet, their heavy focus on fueling muscle growth, while simultaneously reducing body fat, naturally leads to a high protein, low fat diet. This makes them susceptible to the long-term downsides of low omega-3 consumption. Many body builders mitigate this downside risk by choosing supplements that contain omega-3 fats. This approach works admirably, but another method to achieve this goal is through the consumption of foods that are both high in protein and omega-3 fats. Research shows that omega-3 fats are more readily absorbed from foods than supplements, and practitioners get the additional benefit of the micronutrients found in these foods, which are also more readily absorbed from foods.

It’s common knowledge that salmon and flax seed are excellent sources of omega-3 fats, but choosing a daily dose of salmon is both boring and unsustainable over the long term, and flax seed oil suffers from storage stability problems. Fortunately, there are viable, alternative, food based sources of omega-3’s. Here are three:


Sardines, and their cousin the herring, are among the richest sources of seafood based omega-3 fats available. In recent times, these hearty fish have fallen out of favor, as diners tastes have moved toward milder fishes. Sardines have been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years, and when compared against salmon, sardines have a similar amounts of protein and fat, while also being a rich source of phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and selenium. Sardines and other small fish offer the added benefit of improved sustainability by virtue of their shorter time to maturity.


Canola oil, which is a plant-based cooking oil, is an alternative to flax seed for the omega-3 fat known as ALA. A derivative of the rapeseed plant, which in addition to omega-3 fats also contains two toxic chemicals, the production of toxic compounds was bred out by Canadian growers, resulting in the canola plant. Although the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in canola isn’t as good as in flax seed oil, canola oil also doesn’t suffer from the disadvantages of rapid spoilage, or the high cost, of flax seed oil. Although it isn’t really suitable for frying or baking, it is a viable alternative to corn and soybean oils for generalized cooking and low temperature applications, such as dressings and dipping oils.


Almost everyone has heard of cod liver oil, and likely has a grandparent who made that part of their daily routine as a ward against generalized ailments. Made famous by the collapse of the cod fishery off the U.S. northeast seaboard, cod fish offers the advantage of being lower in fat than salmon, while providing an equivalent amount of protein. This translates into fewer calories per serving. As a bonus, of the omega-3 fat present in cod, the majority is DHA, which is the essential fat responsible for improved brain function. Tack on the recent advances in establishing sustainable cod fisheries in both Pacific and Atlantic fisheries, and cod becomes a viable alternative to salmon for both omega-3 and protein.

Despite its reputation, fat is an essential component of a healthy diet. Just like so many things in life though, moderate consumption of a wide variety of healthful fatty foods yields the greatest benefits. So the next time you’re looking for a good source of omega-3’s, try out these three sources.

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