What are the health benefits associated with omega-3s found in fish and shellfish?

Scientific studies suggest that consuming the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), found in fish and shellfish, as part of a healthy balanced diet are linked to a variety of potential health benefits1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Here are five reasons to include omega-3 rich-fish and seafood in your diet.

  1. Improves Heart Health: Eating fish and seafood containing high levels of omega-3s twice a week can reduce your risk of health disease. 1,2,3
  2. Boosts Brain Function: DHA is the central omega-3 fat in your brain. DHA is to the brain as calcium is to bones. It is essential for brain development, function, and cell regeneration. Scientists have observed that DHA increases blood flow in the brain during mental tasks, improving memory and mental sharpness.4
  3. Aids Children Brain and Eye Development: Omega-3s, and more specifically, DHA, is essential for the development of a baby’s brain and eyes.5 DHA is transferred from mother to baby during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The U.S. National Institutes of Health recommend that pregnant women and nursing mothers should eat 8–12 ounces of fish and seafood per week. Visit our Fish and Pregnancy page to learn more.
  4. Fights Inflammation: DHA and EPA have anti-inflammatory properties. Scientific studies link these properties to reduced risk of heart disease, gum disease, and cancer caused by chronic inflammation. These anti-inflammatory properties also support joint health and muscle recovery after exercise.6
  5. May Reduce the Risk of Depression: Studies show that people who eat fish regularly are 20–30 percent less likely to experience depression than their peers.7,8

How much EPA and DHA should I consume every day?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and health professionals recommend consuming between 250 to 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA per day.9

Omega-3s and Fish

When most people think of fatty fish, they think of anchovies, mackerel, and salmon. These fish have noticeable amounts of oil or are well known for being high in omega-3s, but other fish like barramundi and walleye are rich in omega-3 too.

Keep in mind that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish is directly related to what they ate. This holds true for wild and farmed fish populations. Since fish “are what they eat,” the omega-3 levels in a fillet may vary, but in general, you can follow these guidelines for single-serving portions.

More than 1000 mg
Atlantic Salmon 10,11
Barramundi 11
Coho Salmon 12
Rainbow Trout 10
Pompano 10

500-1,000 mg
Barramundi 10
Walleye (Wild) 10

250-500 mg
Shrimp 13

Less than 250 mg
Carp 13
Catfish 10
Crayfish 10
Tilapia 10

Not all fish that are produced in the Midwest are listed above. The list will be updated as new information becomes available.

For more information on omega-3 fatty acids visit the National Institute of Health.

What foods provide omega-3 fatty acids?

  • Fish and Shellfish (e.g. salmon, trout, and walleye)
  • Nuts & Seeds (e.g. walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds)
  • Plant Oils (e.g. flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil)
  • Fortified Foods (e.g. eggs, soy beverages, and yogurt)

Recommended Reading & Resources

1American Heart Association. 2017. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Available at:  https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids

2Kris-Ehterton, P.M., Harris, W., Appal, L.J., 2003. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 23, 151-152.

3Mozaffarian D., Rimm E.B., 2006. Fish Intake, contaminants, and human health: evaluating the risks and the benefits. JAMA 296, 1885-1899.

4Tan MD, MPH, Z.S. Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging. Neurology. 2012 Feb 28;78(9):658-664.

5FAO/WHO, 2011. Report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risk and Benefits of Fish Consumption. Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Geneva, World Health Organization, 50 pp.

6Dawczynski C, Dittrich M, Neumann T, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized cross-over study with microalgae vs. sunflower oil. Clin Nutr. 2018;37(2):494‐504. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2017.02.021

7McNamara RK. Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Etiology, Treatment, and Prevention of Depression: Current Status and Future Directions. J Nutr Intermed Metab. 2016;5:96‐106. doi:10.1016/j.jnim.2016.04.004

8Li F, Liu X, Zhang D. Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2016;70(3):299‐304. doi:10.1136/jech-2015-206278

9U.S. Department of Health Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americas. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidleines/2015/guideline/.

10U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Available at https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/.

11Nichols, P. D., Glencross, B., Petrie, J. R., & Singh, S. P., 2014. Readily available sources of long-chain omega-3 oils: is farmed Australian seafood a better source of the good oil than wild-caught seafood?. Nutrients6(3), 1063–1079. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6031063

12Nettleton JA., 1995. Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Health. Chapman & Hall, 115 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10003, pp. 21-30.

13Exler J. (1987) Composition of Foods: Finfish and Shellfish Products. Agriculture handbook No. 8-15. Washington, DC: USDA