Are Omega-3 Enriched Foods Worth The Extra $$$?

We all know omega-3 means healthy. Men need 1600mg per day, and women 1100mg. Most of us are not getting enough. Food industry to the rescue:  we’re seeing lots of foods boasting added omega-3. There is usually a premium price attached to these enriched products. But is the extra money we pay worth the promised health benefits?

The answer is not so simple, as a recent article in the LA Times explains:

In order to be useful, omega-3s must be consumed in fairly large doses that can be difficult — and expensive — to get through fortified foods such as eggs and milk, says Dr. Donald Hensrud, chief of the division of preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Omega-3 eggs were developed in 1990 by a Canadian food scientist who was looking for a way to reverse declining consumption of eggs, which had gone out of favor due to their high cholesterol content. Producing an egg enriched with omega-3s turned out to be easy: All he had to do was feed hens flaxseed or another natural source of the fats and they ended up in the eggs.

Flaxseed contains ALA, so that ends up being the predominant omega-3 in fortified eggs. Read more…

ALA is a short chain omega-3 fatty acid. In our body, it gets converted to DHA and EPA, long chain omega-3 fatty acids. DHA and EPA have been clinically proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. The problem with ALA is that only  5-15% of it gets converted into DHA and EPA. (For more info on this read our recent blog post on omega-3.)

Basically, what this means is that you will need to consume a lot of enriched eggs or enriched milk to reach the same level of efficacy as as a small serving of salmon. All those calories and saturated fats just to get omega-3. That’s like driving from NY to Washington DC via Texas.

What to do at the supermarket:

If you can , get your long chain DHA and EPA omega-3 from natural sources such as fish. Flax seeds and others nuts and seeds are a good source of ALA omega-3, but you’ll need to consume a lot more for your body to convert them to DHA/EPA.

When buying products fortified with omega-3, look for the ones stating they contain DHA or EPA. If the product does not mention the type of omega-3, it’s probably ALA.

Lastly, try to reduce your omega-6 intake, thus improving the omega-3 / omega-6 ration in your body. This means less junk food.

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  • Ruth

    Another easy way to reduce the level of omega 6 fats is to stop using industrial vegetable oils. No corn oil (the worst and it’s probably made from genetically modified corn), no soybean oil (also likely GM), no canola oil, no margarine, etc.

    Use olive oil, butter, unhydrogonised coconut oil, lard, all naturally low in omega 6. This is the stuff our grandmothers used. (OK, my Jewish grandmothers didn’t use lard). Not only are these fats healthier, but much tastier.

    I had an omlette cooked in vegetable oil the other day at a friend’s house and it tasted gross to me. I make my omlettes in butter. Yum!

  • Beth@WeightMaven

    I try to buy pastured eggs, but if I can’t, I go for the omega 3 eggs. I don’t do this because I think I’m getting lots of omega 3, but because I think these eggs *overall* nutritional profile is likely better than traditional eggs. Here’s a post that details a study that compared pastured eggs to conventional:

    Omega 3 eggs aren’t probably as good, but I’m guessing flax is probably a better (more natural?) diet for chickens than what conventional/industrial chickens get.

  • John

    I wonder what a vegetarian should choose for foods to meet this type of omega-3 guideline. Surely there are choices comparable to salmon and flax seeds.

  • Lauren Slayton

    I agree with Beth, flax is preferred to other feed that has zero omega 3′s (and good knows what else in it). Many of the omega 3 eggs i buy I would purchase anyway and worry if you tell people omega 3 not worth it they may get conventional eggs. John- a vegetarian who eats fish can get DHA that way. Otherwise, an algae-based omega 3 supplement is what I use with vegan clients.

  • Sam

    I would like to know where you got the figures of 1600 mg per day for men and 1100 mg per day for woman. I just read the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines that says 250 mg per day of omega-3. I cannot find any source that seems to agree with an amount of omega-3 per day.

  • Lisa